Politics and Strategy

The Power of Siberia natural-gas project: commercial or political?

By Pierre Noël

[Editors’ note: This post is an extract from an article that will appear in the upcoming issue of Survival. See Samuel Charap, John Drennan and Pierre Noël, ‘Russia and China: A New Model of Great-Power Relations’, Survival, vol. 59, no. 1, February–March 2017]

During a presidential summit in Shanghai in May 2014, Russia and China signed a 30-year gas purchase and sale agreement reportedly worth $400bn. CNPC (China National Petroleum Corporation) committed to buy 38 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas annually from Gazprom. This volume amounts to 20% of China’s 2014 consumption and 60% of its 2014 gas imports. The 38-bcm annual volume should be attained around 2025 after a ramp-up period of several years. The first exports could happen in 2019 or 2020. On the Russian side, the project involves some $70bn of investment, including $20bn for field development, $35bn for the pipeline itself and $15bn for a gas-treatment plant at the Chinese–Russian border, in partnership with Russian chemical company Sibur. Field-development and pipeline-construction work are now proceeding apace. In September 2016, Gazprom and CNPC finalised an agreement to build the cross-border section of the pipeline under the Amur River.

The official view in Russia is that Power of Siberia, as the project is known, is only the first step toward building a strategic gas relationship with China, akin to the one it has with Western Europe. Russian reserves would certainly support a long-term gas trade of 100bcm per year. Power of Siberia will create a physical link between the two countries, worth tens of billions of dollars, supporting a flow of energy worth many times that over three decades.

While this gas relationship between Russia and China necessarily has strategic implications, its significance to the two sides is fundamentally different. The Russian government would like it to be understood as a key strategic bond between the two countries. Energy has been the defining factor of Russia’s post-Soviet international economic policy and diplomatic influence. Establishing a gas relationship with China in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis is perceived as a major success by Moscow. According to the narrative presented by Russia’s authorities, Power of Siberia signals the natural complementarity between the two countries and demonstrates Russia’s ability to develop new export markets outside of Europe.

For China, the gas relationship with Russia is much more mundane. China does not ‘need’ Russian gas (though some Chinese analysts see the energy relationship with Russia as an opportunity to reduce, in relative terms, the country’s dependence on imports by sea) and is under no pressure to compromise on its interests, economic or political, in order to get it. Some Chinese economic and environmental objectives will be easier to achieve with ample gas supply, but none are dependent on the gas relationship with Russia specifically. Chinese state-owned energy companies have demonstrated their ability to bring energy to China, including natural gas, from a fast-growing number of countries and regions, at prices consistent with (or lower than) international market conditions. Resource holders all over the world are competing to access the Chinese market; Russia is just one of them.

Therefore, the gas relationship does not provide balance to an otherwise asymmetrical relationship; it is an element of the broader asymmetry. Russia needs to export the gas much more than China needs to import it. For Beijing, this asymmetry is a factor to be carefully managed. One key aspect of this management effort was to agree to Power of Siberia in the first place.

Negotiations on the pipeline had lasted for more than ten years amidst a changing geopolitical and international-energy landscape. The Ukraine crisis made the deal a strategic priority for Moscow, which wanted to signal to the US and EU countries that its energy complementarity with China offered it a real alternative to European export markets and could be a building block for a broader strategic economic partnership with Beijing. However, just as the deal became a top priority for Russia, its importance for China was diminishing. The rate of gas-demand growth in China had declined sharply; prospects for Chinese shale-gas production had improved; Turkmenistan was eager to increase its exports to the east; a gas-supply deal with Myanmar had come on line; and, finally, US LNG exports were just over the horizon, contributing to a much brighter outlook for the global LNG market, at least from a consumer’s perspective.

The terms offered by CNPC, the Chinese contracting party, were not acceptable to Gazprom. The project is simply too costly to make Russian gas competitive in China in the current energy market. Eventually, both governments twisted the arms of their national energy companies to sign a deal that makes little commercial sense but is a powerful symbol of the countries’ structural complementarity. Gazprom was forced by the Kremlin into a project with extremely low return on capital, if any. The Chinese government, for its part, decided that the cost of offering Moscow such a symbolic achievement was less than the potential blowback from rebuffing Russia. So it forced CNPC to accept a less-than-optimal gas-import contract.

Figure 1: Net Present Value of Power of Siberia as a Function of the Oil Price

Two months later, the price of oil began to fall from its highs of $110 per barrel and stabilised at less than half that level. For Gazprom, such a fall, if it lasts after 2020, will transform Power of Siberia from a project providing a small but positive net present value (NPV) into one incurring a loss of up to $17bn (Figure 1). However, such heavy losses could be significantly mitigated if the Russian government were to waive all or part of the 30% natural-gas export duty and, crucially, if Gazprom lowered its discount rate. (The discount rate is a key financial variable that determines the relative value of a dollar today, compared to a dollar in the future. The higher the discount rate, the greater the preference for the present. A low discount rate makes a capital-intensive, long-lived project such as Power of Siberia look better financially, but minority investors in Gazprom would object that there are much better uses for their capital, at comparable risk levels, elsewhere in the market. Typically, governments use lower discount rates for infrastructure investment than for-profit corporations because they can borrow at cheaper rates, reflecting lower risks, and take into account the social benefits that accrue to the wider economy.)

If the discount rate were brought down from 10% – typical of commercial energy projects – to 3.5%, Power of Siberia would break even with an oil price of between $40 to $60 dollars per barrel, depending on the level of the export duty (Figure 2). This compares to $110 per barrel required to break even at a 10% discount rate and the current 30% export duty levied on pipeline gas exports.

Figure 2: Net Present Value of Power of Siberia vs Oil Price and Gas Export Duty, Using a Discount Rate of 3.5%

For the purpose of cementing its relationship with China, the Russian government is essentially using Gazprom as a non-commercial entity, akin to its Soviet-era incarnation: the Ministry of the Natural Gas Industry. At a recent event with foreign investors, Russian President Vladimir Putin, while acknowledging that government-controlled joint-stock companies such as Gazprom had ‘a significant share of private capital, including foreign capital’, admitted that projects such as Power of Siberia are long-term bets that do not reflect short-term market realities. A more accurate description is that the government is directing Gazprom to undertake a project with a very low expected rate of return on capital, which only makes sense because Moscow values its expected geopolitical benefits.

While this de-commercialisation of Gazprom may have created the conditions for the Power of Siberia deal to be signed, it does not provide a guarantee that the long-term gas relationship will be stable. CNPC will be operating in an ever more competitive domestic market, in which the price of gas could be lower than the price it pays under the Russian contract. It would then incur huge losses that the Chinese government would have to absorb, or else the contract with Gazprom would come under severe pressure. Therefore, Beijing’s political decision to accommodate Moscow on Power of Siberia might not be just a one-off concession; it might have to be sustained for years and potentially decades, depending on the evolution of natural-gas markets in Asia.

Trump's truths

By Mark Fitzpatrick

Although much of what Donald Trump said on the campaign trail was disconcerting, once fairly elected he perhaps deserved the benefit of the doubt, until undermined by his actual performance as president. That did not take long.

On Day Two of his presidency, Trump declared war on the media, blatantly lied on matters easily disproven and dishonoured the memory of fallen American heroes by using the Memorial Wall at the CIA as a political prop. There he brought an entourage to cheer his attacks on the media (‘they are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth,’ he said), giving viewers the misimpression that CIA staff themselves approved of his undermining of First Amendment freedoms. President Trump also claimed, without any evidence, that ‘almost everybody’ present at the occasion voted for him because they were on his ‘same wavelength’.

Whatever was the case on 8 November, intelligence officials are unlikely to be in sync with the president this week. Their assessments are fact-based; his, so far, are not. False claims about illegal votes cast by undocumented immigrants (there is scant evidence of any voter fraud, let alone Trump's claim of three million to 5m tainted ballots) and the size of the crowd at his inauguration undermine the credibility of the US government when it will be vital on more important matters. Trump’s doubling down on disproven allegations could mark the beginning of a tenure of untruths.

If Trump repeats his Langley performance at any other US federal agency, officials should make it known that they do not support falsehoods and political attacks. If they cannot do so on the spot, they should find ways to let the public know later. Like the president, their pledge is to uphold the Constitution. This means, inter alia, upholding the freedom of the press.

As preparations for the change of administration were underway, many eyes were riveted by another presidential drama unfolding far away. In the tiny country of Gambia, defeated incumbent President Yahya Jammeh was refusing to turn over power to election victor Adama Barrow.

It was a puny comparison, but Americans could take pride in their lawful transition of power. However affected the voting may have been by Russian interference and imprudent statements by the FBI director, Trump’s election was legitimate. The massive Women’s March protests around the nation the day after Trump’s inauguration were entirely peaceful. Not one arrest was recorded in the 526 marches in the US that day involving an estimated 3.3m–4.6m people.

US intelligence analysts are also likely to be out of sync with some of Trump’s initial policy directives. They know, for example, that the counterproductive ban on visas to citizens of several Muslim countries will do more to fan than to quell anti-American terrorist activity. The ban will be used by groups such as the Islamic State to buttress their propaganda of a beset-upon Muslim people. Moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, if implemented, would further inflame Middle East passions.

President Trump’s first days in office were not a huge surprise. His early statements and policies have been consistent with his campaign promises and behaviour. The American people knew what he stood for, and, in accordance with the electoral college system, freely voted for it.

Now that Trump is in office, he represents all Americans. They are his boss, pay his salary and when he misstates the truth or otherwise misbehaves, need to call him on it, just as with all his predecessors. And when the White House spokesman declares that the media will be punished for reporting truths, pushback is imperative.

Those with the power of the pen have a responsibility to offer criticism responsibly and fairly. This means respecting the office of the president and, when he earns it, the president himself. He should receive the benefit of the doubt whenever it is earned.

Pre-empting a North Korean ICBM test

By Mark Fitzpatrick and Michael Elleman

President-elect Donald Trump’s tweet ‘It won’t happen!’ in response to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s claim in his New Year’s address that his nation had ‘entered the final stage of preparation for a test launch of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)’ left much unsaid. Although heavily panned by critics as yet another unscripted threat, his ‘clear warning’ to North Korea found favour in Seoul.

How he would enforce that red line was left unstated. More sanctions and other forms of pressure that are already in the offing will surely be ramped up. Cyber attacks and other forms of sabotage might be employed to try to make the North’s strategic systems non-functional. Negotiations have in the past produced moratoriums on missile launches, although the latest agreement, on Leap Day, 2012, was so short-lived – just a few weeks passed before Kim (unsuccessfully) tested a space launch in violation of the deal – as to put a pallor on diplomatic gambits. Although it is certainly worth exploring again, Trump’s tone did not suggest that diplomacy was on his mind. Missile defence might help protect the US homeland, but relying on such defences would not prevent development and test launching of the system.

An intense military intervention to try to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear and missile programme was probably not what Trump meant either. It is doubtful that foreign intelligence agencies know where North Korea’s estimated 20 or so nuclear weapons and stockpiles of plutonium and enriched uranium are stored. The contingency operations plan to seize and destroy nuclear-capable sites and weapons in the North that was reportedly discussed by US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and ROK Defense Minister Han Min-koo in November 2015 undoubtedly relies on several unknown variables.

Ten years ago Carter, as a civilian, famously advocated a more selective pre-emptive strike to destroy an ICBM on the launch pad if North Korea prepared to test one, after first issuing a warning. In his government capacity, Carter has declined to address that recommendation.

Discussions of pre-emption have become common, in both Seoul and Washington. Few analysts actually advocate an unprovoked attack, however, knowing that it would likely trigger war. North Korean leaders would surely see such an attack as the prelude to a military operation to topple the regime and lash out in response. The escalation that would likely ensue could easily see very high military and civilian casualties. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee in February 2016, the commander of American forces in Korea General Curtis Scaparrotti said: ‘Given the size of the forces and the weaponry involved, this would be more akin to the Korean War and World War II – very complex, probably high casualty’.

Some respected figures advocate pre-emption nonetheless, even under cloudy circumstances. Retired Army Gen. Walter Sharp, who commanded US Forces–Korea from 2008 to 2011, argued in November that if North Korea put an ICBM on the launch pad, and the US were unsure whether it carried a satellite or a nuclear warhead, the missile should be destroyed.

Pre-emption would be warranted if the US had credible, robust intelligence that North Korea were readying a missile for a nuclear attack. There must be a high bar for the intelligence that would trigger pre-emption, however, not just uncertainly about the launch. A pre-emptive attack without such credible and strong intelligence would needlessly provoke a devastating war. Unless war had already broken out, the strong odds are that any launch would only be a test, not an attack that would invite retaliation and the swift end of the Kim regime.

It is unclear whether the US and South Korean intelligence assets would be able to detect ICBM launch preparations in time. North Korea’s two missile launch sites at Tonghae and Sohae are under constant overhead surveillance, but the missile systems of concern, the three-stage KN-08 and two-stage KN-14, are road-mobile. Undoubtedly, the ROK intelligence agencies have an idea of how many of North Korea’s 724km of paved roads can accommodate the eight-axle transporter-erector-launchers (TELs) that carry the KN-08s, and what it would take to monitor all capable roads to ensure timely detection.

During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the US ‘Scud-hunting mission’ failed to detect the missiles that Saddam Hussein launched at Israel. In that case, however, Iraq’s total deployment area was in the order of 30,000 to 40,000 square km of off-road territory. This is roughly 5,000 times the on-road deployment areas available to North Korean ICBM TELs. Moreover, the Scud systems were small and could be pre-fuelled. By contrast, North Korea’s ICBMs have to be erected before fuelling, because of their weight and aluminium frames (which otherwise could bend). Taking into account the 30–60 minute fuelling times and test-instrumentation checkout, the pre-launch exposure times for a KN-08 or KN-14 test will be significantly greater than in the case of Iraq’s experienced Scud-launch crews. Moreover, North Korea’s adversaries only need to keep track of the eight TELs that North Korea possesses. For these reasons, pre-launch interdiction is far more plausible today in North Korea than it was during Operation Desert Storm, some 25 years ago.

Given the potential consequences, pre-emption options should not be discussed cavalierly and without further exploration of a deal to forestall ICBM testing. In any case, no pre-emption move should be made before consultation with and approval by South Korea, which would bear the brunt of the North Korean reprisal. Japan, which would also be drawn into the war, must also be consulted. Pre-consultation with Beijing would also be useful, both to send a warning to Pyongyang and to let the Chinese know the consequences of their not dissuading North Korea from its ICBM plans. The Chinese bear particular responsibility, in that the TELS are based on the eight chassis imported from the China Aerospace and Industry Corporation. If and when such consultations take place, we trust the communication will not take place via Twitter.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS–Americas. Michael Elleman is IISS Senior Fellow for Missile Defence.

Trump, Muslims and America's Allies

By Dana Allin

Donald Trump’s shocking ban on travel to the United States by citizens of seven Muslim countries is morally wrong, strategically inept and arguably in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It also highlights the excruciating difficulties that will confront all of America’s allies for the next four or eight years.

There is a natural impulse on the part of those allies to believe and behave as though nothing fundamental has changed. The United States is the anchor of NATO and other crucial Western institutions; its new president was duly chosen through the electoral college; no friendly government should second-guess or otherwise seem to pass judgment on that democratic process.

Some of these allies understood, however, immediately and viscerally, that the new dispensation was fraught with peril. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s terse statement of congratulations on Trump’s election was a masterpiece of freighted meaning. ‘Germany and America are connected by values of democracy, freedom and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views’, she said on 9 November, the morning after. ‘I offer the next President of the United States close cooperation on the basis of these values.’ On Saturday, following her first telephone conversation with the new president, Merkel let it be known, through her spokesman, that she had chided Trump for his early, official violation of those values.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May apparently felt constrained to use a different approach. As she travelled to the US last week, British media, obsessed as always with the idea of a ‘special relationship’, made much of the fact that she was the first foreign leader to meet with the newly inaugurated president. The day before their Friday meeting, in a speech to Republican legislators gathered in Philadelphia, May proclaimed herself a ‘fellow Conservative who believes in the same principles that underpin the agenda of your Party’. And she suggested that ‘President Trump’s victory – achieved in defiance of all the pundits and polls – and rooted not in the corridors of Washington, but in the hopes and aspirations of working men and women across this land’ offered opportunity for a ‘new era of American renewal’.

On the same day that May delivered this speech, President Trump was threatening and humiliating America’s truly special relative: Mexico. He was demanding that the Mexicans, in fear and awe of their northern neighbour’s Trumpian wrath, pay $25 billion in tribute to finance a huge and beautiful border wall. As a consequence, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto had to cancel his own planned trip to meet with Trump in Washington. There are limits to the humiliation that a proud people will endure, and it is unlikely that the cancellation of a customary state visit will be the end of the consequences for Mexican politics and society.

Like Merkel, Prime Minister May in her Philadelphia speech also spoke out for common values and strategic necessities. She stood up for transatlantic and global institutions including NATO, for which Trump has expressed repeated disdain, and the United Nations, which is much maligned by the Republicans who were listening to her. Admirably, she also insisted that it remains overwhelmingly in our interests – and in those of the wider world – that the EU should succeed’.

Unfortunately, however, that is not how the new US administration sees things. Trump has celebrated Brexit as the possible beginning of further EU unravelling. The driving hostility of Trump’s special assistant and chief ideologist, Stephen Bannon, towards the EU is even more pronounced. It will be difficult for the promised US-UK trade deal – which UK advocates of Brexit are pointing to, desperately and implausibly, as salvation from the economic consequences – to escape the ethno-nationalist taint of Bannon and Trump. May reemphasised the importance of European solidarity – yet in these circumstances the idea of a US-UK special relationship is intentionally corrosive to that solidarity.

Trump, moreover, is a protectionist with a short attention span. In the best of circumstances, America is a hard – and powerful – bargainer when it comes to trade. And while the US government has numerous experienced trade negotiators, the chaotic unveiling of Trump’s Friday executive order – a barely disguised Muslim ban formulated and announced without legal or interagency review – can hardly inspire confidence about future complex dealings regarding trade or anything else.

There must be occasions, in facing bullies, when appeasement makes sense. Let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that you are leaving, for whatever reason, an old circle of friends – and it is not an amicable parting. You reach out for solace to another friend, but discover that this friend’s personality has undergone a sudden transformation – he has turned into a bully. Still, it could make sense to flatter him – especially if you know that he is a glutton for flattery, and has moreover turned his bullying, for the moment at least, towards much weaker victims.

To repeat, in all seriousness: appeasement of both antagonists and erratic friends sometimes makes sense. But it also can end badly. Merkel is correct on this score: Europeans, notwithstanding their many ongoing difficulties, probably need to take ‘our fate in our own hands’. Where that leaves Britain is an open question.

An H.R. McMaster Survival reader

By the Survival editors

H.R. McMaster has a long association with Survival, including as one of our Contributing Editors, in which role he has been writing regular book reviews on war, conflict and the military.

In light of his appointment by President Donald Trump as National Security Advisor, we thought it would be helpful to lift the paywall for four of his longer contributions to the journal. We are grateful to our publishers, Taylor and Francis, who have made the following articles free-access until the end of March 2017.

‘On War: Lessons to Be Learned’, Survival, vol. 50, no. 1, February–March 2008, pp. 19–30.

Leaders should also abandon the belief that wars can be waged efficiently with a minimalist approach to the commitment of forces and other resources. The belief that progress toward achieving objectives in Afghanistan and Iraq could be achieved by doing just enough to establish security and help nascent governments and security forces assume responsibility for ongoing conflicts betrayed linear thinking, neglected the interaction with determined enemies, ignored other sources of instability, and was based on a misunderstanding of the nature of those conflicts. Consequences of linear thinking in Afghanistan and Iraq included overestimating indigenous forces’ capabilities, underestimating the enemy and the associated expectation that the coalition could soon reduce force levels and shift to an exclusively advisory effort. A short‐term approach to long‐term problems generated multiple short‐term plans that often confused activity with progress.

Read more here.

‘The Uncertainties of Strategy’, Review Essay, Survival, vol. 57, no. 1, February–March 2015, pp. 197–208.

It is in their inherent moral components that recent Western strategies may be deficient. What percentage of the populations in countries engaged in the 14-year effort in Afghanistan could even name the three main Taliban groups with whom their soldiers have been engaged? The professed war-weariness among populations who have sent only a small percentage of their sons and daughters to fight in recent wars may derive from a failure to communicate effectively what is at stake in those wars and explain why the efforts are worthy of the risks, resources and sacrifices necessary to sustain the strategy.

Read more here.

‘Photography at War’, Review Essay, Survival, vol. 56, no. 2, April–May 2014, pp. 187–98.

In her introduction, Tucker observes that photographs ‘have been essential in gaining public support for war efforts and in the loss of that support’ (p. 2). They will remain so, but it seems that editors' ability to use the selection of photographs to influence public opinion will diminish as the means of distributing wartime photographs continue to proliferate. The public's access to wartime photographs, and thoughtful presentations of wartime photographs as in War/Photography, might not only help resurrect the value that societies place on virtuous sacrifice in war, but also help bridge what many see as a growing gap between soldiers and their societies, especially as so many in the US and European armed forces return to civilian life after service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Read more here.

‘Ancient Lessons for Today’s Soldiers’, Review Essay, Survival, vol. 50, no. 4, August–September 2008, pp. 177–90.

Beyond the utilitarian need to maintain ethical standards, if Western soldiers compromise their standards (and the standards of the societies they represent) when confronting terrorists, it may be argued they have already lost. Values education can ring hollow unless it is pursued in a way that provides context and demonstrates relevance. Robinson's Military Honour and the Conduct of War, Sherman's Stoic Warriors, and Coker's The Warrior Ethos provide that context and demonstrate the relevance of ethics to war, warriors and the societies that warriors pledge to serve.

Read more here.

North Korean missile test: Don’t go ballistic

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, IISS-Americas 

President Donald Trump’s initial response to North Korea’s 12 February ballistic-missile test was far calmer than many of his earlier pronouncements on the subject. Asked about it during his golf weekend with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump simply called upon North Korea to fully comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions. He also reaffirmed US support for Japan – perhaps forgetting that South Korea is also targeted by North Korean missiles, not to mention its long-range artillery.

A month earlier, Trump had insisted, via Twitter, that North Korea would not be allowed to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had boasted in his New Year’s address. Luckily, Trump’s red line was not put to the test this time, since the missile in question was not an ICBM. Encouragingly, the episode suggests a willingness on Trump’s part to deliberate when the options are dismal. After having repeatedly lambasted his predecessor’s North Korea policy, Trump essentially repeated it: alliance unity and working through the UN.

It was not initially clear what exactly was tested. The South Korean Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff first said it appeared to be a Nodong, which has a range of 1200km, or perhaps a modified version of that missile. Later South Korean officials suggested it was likely to have been an intermediate-range Musudan, which was tested six times last year and has a range of about 3,000km. 

Late in the day, however, North Korean media claimed that the test was of a solid-fuelled Pukguksong-2 (North Star-2) ballistic missile. Pukguksong was the name North Korea gave to the sea-launched ballistic missile it claimed to have tested on 24 August 2016. A successful land-based test of the solid-fuelled system is a new and highly significant development, occasioning much boasting in the North Korea state media. Solid-fuelled missiles can be launched at short notice, and are thus far harder to neutralise via pre-emptive attack.

While Pyongyang’s claims are often exaggerated, the 500km distance and 550km lofted apogee of the test, equivalent to 1200km on a standard trajectory, is entirely consistent with a land-based version of the solid-fueled submarine-launched ballistic missile. The KN-11, as the missile is known in the West, has two stages, the first of which would have impacted roughly 70–100km down-range, possibly in populated territory. The North Koreans do not attach high priority to citizen safety.

Testing a missile after the United States and other countries had demanded a halt to the programme is an act of defiance that plays well domestically, showing Kim Jong-un to be a strong leader. The purpose of the test was not purely political, however. The timing may have been political, but the dominant reason for the test was probably technical. North Korea is determined to develop a capability to strike the United States with nuclear weapons, believing- wrongly – that this is necessary for its national defence.

Pyongyang has embarked on an ambitious missile and nuclear testing programme to develop that capability, with over 20 ballistic-missile tests from January through October 2016. After a lull that coincided with the US presidential election and transition, the 12 February 2017 test was a resumed step in that development. If the ambitious testing rate continues, North Korea may have an effective nuclear-tipped ICBM by the end of Trump's four-year term.

In the coming days and weeks, Trump will want to employ a more effective approach than demanding that North Korea to do something so out of its nature as to abide by UN mandates. He has already called for a review of North Korea policy, a process that may be delayed until key positions in the Departments of State and Defense are filled.

There are no good options. Everything has been tried - except military measures, out of concern not to spark a resumption of the Korean War. More sanctions and other forms of pressure can be expected, possibly including interdictions of North Korean ships. Some US officials have also been talking about pre-emption options. On 7 February, US Forces Korea Commander Vincent Brooks called for greater capability to target North Korean missile bases, saying that existing defences are insufficient to deal with the North Korean missile threat. It would not be surprising if one reason for the timing of North Korea’s most recent launch was to respond to Brooks.

Public talk of pre-emption should be quelled before it takes on a life of its own. In any case, pre-emption should not be a tool used unilaterally. South Korea, which would bear the brunt of North Korea’s military response, would need to be fully on board with any pre-emptive option. So, too, Japan, which could also see retaliation, this time with armed Nodongs.

Among a range of bad policy choices, an effort to engage Kim Jong-un - just as candidate Trump said he was willing to try - would not be the worst. Talking with North Korea while simultaneously applying pressure does not have to mean accepting it as a nuclear-armed state. If pre-emption is ever to emerge as the policy of choice, it will be imperative to have tried every peaceful measure first.

Cyber attacks on Ukraine's power grid: to what end?

Ben Buchanan is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University’s Cybersecurity Project, where he conducts research on the intersection of cybersecurity and statecraft. His first book, The Cybersecurity Dilemma, was published by Oxford University Press in 2017. His most recent article in Survival, ‘Cryptography and Sovereignty’, appeared in the October–November 2016 issue. 

In 2015, a massive cyber attack in Ukraine left nearly a quarter-million people without power. The incident has since come to represent the clearest example so far of what capable hackers attacking critical infrastructure might be able to achieve. When there were anomalies in the Ukrainian power grid again this past December, the first suspicion was another cyber attack. A recent investigation appears to have confirmed the suspicion, raising questions about what this means for cybersecurity strategy.

While investigators believe that the same group is responsible for both incidents, there are some important differences between the 2015 and 2016 cases. Most significant was that the first incident lasted far longer; the more recent attack took place around midnight on 17 December and lasted only a little more than an hour. The attacks were also different in type. The 2016 attack was against a transmission facility, while the 2015 one reportedly affected a distribution facility. And the 2015 incident employed several different attack components in a coordinated effect to knock out power, disable the operators’ access to key systems and take down telephone networks.

Theories abound as to what the attackers were up to. Though it’s too early to come to any definitive conclusions, one hypothesis deserves a hearing and can point to some ideas of overarching significance in cyber operations: that one or both of the incidents represented a testing or demonstration of capabilities.

It appears to be the case that the intruders didn’t want to cause massive damage. One of the investigators on the case, Marina Krotofil, said of the attackers: ‘They could do many more things, but obviously they didn't have this as an intent. It was more like a demonstration of capabilities.’ The operation - and to some degree even the 2015 attack - might have been a proof of concept, designed to verify that the attack code would work as intended or signal that such damage was possible.

There are at least three different audiences for such a test or demonstration. First, the intruders may have been verifying to themselves that they could cause physical harm if required. Developing tailored cyber capabilities, especially against industrial control systems, requires a significant amount of reconnaissance, testing and refinement. It is reported that the United States or Israel, or both, built a replica of the Iranian nuclear facility in order to have an environment for fine tuning their attack code in the Stuxnet operation. If the Ukraine attackers didn’t have mock targets, they may have felt a need to practice on the real target network.

Alternatively, the attackers may have felt a need to demonstrate capabilities to external overseers or decision-makers. It has been reported that, as a way of showing President George W. Bush what was possible with cyber attacks, intelligence community officials brought him pieces of a centrifuge destroyed by computer code. That piece almost certainly came from an American-owned centrifuge, not an Iranian one, but once again the attackers in Ukraine might not have had access to a test environment.

A third intended audience might be the Ukrainians themselves, or other observers. The art of brandishing capabilities - threatening use in order to achieve some end - is deeply uncertain in cyber operations. A limited attack may have revealed the extent to which the intruders had gained access and their capacity to do damage. To the right audience, it might be understood as an implicit threat.

Why does all of this matter for Western nations? If would-be attackers are capable of refining their techniques in an environment such as Ukraine, they could well be better prepared to attack other targets with similar designs. The investigator on the case explicitly raised this worry. ‘Ukraine uses equipment and security protections of the same vendors as everybody else around the world’, Krotofil said. ‘If the attackers learn how to go around those tools and appliances in Ukrainian infrastructures, they can then directly go to the West.’

The missile threat to the Iran nuclear deal

By Paulina Izewicz, Research Associate for Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy

The Iran nuclear accord may suddenly be in serious danger. On 29 January 2017, Iran tested an unspecified medium-range ballistic missile, prompting an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. The launch caused a further flare-up in relations with the United States, already tense because of Donald Trump’s executive order imposing an immigration ban on citizens of seven countries, among them Iran. This saga culminated in an announcement by the White House national security advisor Michael Flynn on 1 February that the United States was ‘officially putting Iran on notice’.

Iran steadfastly resisted including ballistic missiles in the nuclear negotiations that produced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The other negotiating parties went along, on the grounds that missiles without nuclear warheads are far less threatening, but they kept restrictions in the UN Security Council resolution that endorsed the JCPOA. As such, the recent test does not constitute a violation of the nuclear accord. Its relation to UNSCR 2231, however, is a little more ambiguous.

In a departure from the previous, more unequivocal prohibition in UNSCR 1929 under which the Security Council ‘decided’ that Iran should not undertake any activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, Iran is now ‘called upon’ to refrain from such activities regarding ballistic missiles ‘designed’ to be capable of carrying those weapons. The first element introduces a question of whether the provision is even legally binding. Iran and Russia say that it is not; the latter is significant because of Russia’s veto power in the Security Council. The second element arguably provides an offramp for Iran, which contends that its missiles have not been designed with the specific purpose of carrying nuclear weapons, and hence the provision is inapplicable. The counter-argument is that any ballistic missiles that can reach 300 kilometers with a 500 kilogram warhead are deemed to be intrinsically capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The medium-range missile in question, which flew about 1000km, certainly meets this criterion.

Whatever the legal determination, however, the launch was unnecessarily provocative and at odds with the constructive spirit of the JPCOA. The agreement already faces a hostile US administration and Congress, so Iran would be wise to tread carefully. Indeed, its ballistic missile programme stands out as one of the sensitive pressure points at which the JCPOA could begin to unravel. It has long been a target for congressional Republicans, who have already renewed their push to pass new sanctions legislation. Under the Obama administration, such attempts faced the threat of a presidential veto; this will no longer be the case.

Iran, for its part, has on multiple occasions stated that it would regard imposition of any additional sanctions as a breach of the nuclear agreement, and respond accordingly. It is then not difficult to imagine a scenario in which Washington and Tehran engage in a series of tit-for-tat responses, and the situation quickly spirals out of control.

This could happen by recklessness or by design. Although the Trump administration is no fan of the JCPOA, abrogating it without an obvious breach by Iran would risk alienating European allies who are also party to the agreement, and who remain committed to it. But if Iran could be goaded into breaking its commitments instead, the situation would be quite different in terms of blame and willingness of other parties to apply penalties.

Ballistic missiles are a vital element of Iran’s military doctrine, largely as a substitute for a capable air force; they also play an important role in bolstering the credibility and legitimacy of the regime. As a result, there is little reason to believe Iran will bend to any attempts to curb its missile development. Political circumstances make it particularly impossible for Iran to stand down now. The programme is controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an important power broker. As the rivalry between hardliners and moderates heats up in the run-up to President Hassan Rouhani’s bid for re-election in May, Rouhani will not want to appear to give in to an American president whom nearly every Iranian despises.

With this in mind, both the United States and Iran should calibrate their responses carefully. This is not to say that Iran should be given a free pass: there are a number of responses available to the Trump administration to try to rein in Iran’s missiles. But this will require a properly developed policy that goes beyond putting Iran ‘on notice’. The series of new sanctions designations issued by the Treasury Department on 3 February, targeting individuals and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic-missile programme, was an appropriate step, consistent with past practice and not inconsistent with US commitments under the JCPOA. The continued implementation of the agreement ensures that, at least for its duration, Iran will not develop a nuclear warhead to mount atop a missile. It would be a shame to let it collapse through blunder or bluster, on either side.

Don’t apply new Iran sanctions before prioritising the problems

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS–Americas. This commentary is drawn from his remarks at a panel on 21 February 2017, which discussed ‘Iran: Sanctions and the Nuclear Deal’, hosted by the Center for the National Interest. The video is available here.

Iran’s behaviour is problematic in many ways, including missile tests, abetting regional strife and taking US citizens hostage. Challenges in the nuclear field that used to top the list, however, are no longer an issue – at least not so long as the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed in July 2015, remain fulfilled. And so far, they are. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium is far below the amount allowed under the deal’s terms. With Iran’s nuclear programme remaining under strict limits, the prospect of going to war over this is also off the table for the time being. 

Considering the other problems that Iran continues to pose, concerned states should prioritise their objectives. Preserving a deal that blocks all Iranian paths to a nuclear weapon is a first-order goal. Only with nuclear weapons would Iran present a direct national security threat to states beyond its neighbourhood. Impairing Iran’s missile program is a second-order objective. Stopping Iran’s arms shipments to Yemen is at best a third-order problem, the solution for which lies in an internal political settlement.

Concerned states should be prepared to sanction Iran for non-nuclear violations, when warranted. That is, when the sanctions can be more effective than other policy tools in affecting the behaviour in question. ‘When warranted’ also means when applying such sanctions does not intentionally or inadvertently violate the JCPOA. Undermining the sanctions relief that Iran was promised under the deal would arguably violate it.

In considering effectiveness, it should be realised that more sanctions will not cause Iran to buckle under and renegotiate the JCPOA on US terms. Sanctions helped bring Iran to the negotiating table, but they are not what persuaded it to cut back its nuclear infrastructure and accept intrusive inspections. Rather, US willingness to compromise by accepting some level of enrichment in Iran was key to persuading Iran to accept limits. Deal opponents call that compromise the original sin. I suppose so, in the sense that sex was considered to be the original sin. Without it, negotiations could not have given birth to a deal. There is no virgin birth. Nor was a unicorn deal possible.

Nor will sanctions force Iran to abandon its missile programme, which it sees as essential for defence, given the decrepit nature of Iran’s air force. Missile sanctions can help create leverage, as well as slow, damage and undermine the programme’s efficacy. But incentives also will be necessary to achieve a broader arms control arrangement with Iran on missiles. Iran may only accept missile limits if other regional players do so as well, perhaps as part of a multilateral deal. Meanwhile, the missile threat can be addressed via integrated missile defence in the Gulf states, enhanced export controls and civil defence measures.

Some of the Iran-related bills under consideration by Congress seem to be drafted to contravene the JCPOA. HR 566, for example – the so-called ‘Terror-Free Skies Act’ – seeks to rescind the delisting of Iran Air as a Specially Designated National by the US Department of the Treasury. This would almost certainly put the kibosh on export licenses for the 80 planes that Boeing contracted to sell Iran.

HR 566 and other sanctions bills seem intended to goad Iran into responding by abrogating the JCPOA. Some sanctions advocates are very clear that this is their goal. But Iran will not be easily goaded, because it does not want to be seen as the party of blame for killing the deal. If the deal unravels because of US antipathy, US partners will not agree to reimpose sanctions. As Ilan Goldenberg wrote recently, even though the Trump team has maintained that it will abide by the deal, the global narrative is already being set that it is the unreasonable actor and if the deal collapses, Iran will not be at fault. 

One new sanction under consideration in Washington – designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation – seems designed to warn foreign firms from doing any business with Iran, because of the persuasive role of IRGC-related enterprises in the economy. This would be at least a violation of the spirit, and, arguably, of the letter of the JCPOA. But it would be a purposeless violation, because the penalties it would impose are the same as IRGC’s existing sanctions. 

Worse than pointless, an IRGC designation would be counter-productive, by endangering US forces in Iraq and increasing the difficulty of defeating the Islamic State. Although their role is problematic, IRGC-associated militia are involved in that fight. Demonising them via a terrorist label could well see them repurposed as an active foe of US forces, rather than as a fitful ally. 

The IRGC is also an important player in several regional conflicts. As Hossein Mousavian argues, to label it terrorist will shut the door on opportunities for successful diplomacy. Mousavian also claims that designating the IRGC as a terrorist group would be tantamount to an unofficial declaration of war. This is an exaggeration, but that is how many Iranians would see it. The Foreign Terrorist Organizations law was not intended to be used as pressure against countries. It has never been applied to an official government institution.  

Consideration of new sanctions should not ignore political dimensions. More pressure on Iran could turn the population against the government that promised sanctions relief, and see Rouhani lose his bid for re-election on 19 May. Raising this consideration does not mean that US policy should turn on the uncertain political impact in adversary countries. But neither should we ignore the impact. A rule of thumb is that the US probably cannot do much to help Rouhani, but it certainly can hurt him. Whether or not one sees him as a moderate, he is unquestionably better than a hard-line alternative such as IRGC-Qods force commander Qassem Soleimaini.

If the objective is to prolong enmity with Iran for as long as possible, Washington should continue taking hostile and insulting steps like banning all visitors carrying an Iranian passport. The White House’s maladroit executive order blacklisting seven Muslim countries disproportionately affected Iran because of the size and international-mindedness of its population, and because without diplomatic relations with the US, there was no way for its government to legally overcome the presumption that its citizens presented a terrorism risk.

Similarly motivated acts such as blacklisting segments of Iran’s military, which is populated via conscription, cannot help but spur Iranians to rally around the flag. They reinforce Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s narrative that the US cannot be trusted and is irreconcilably anti-Iranian. 

I repeat, let us keep our eye on the ball. We saw in the North Korean case how abandoning a deal that limited their nuclear program has led to an insurmountable problem. The 1994 Agreed Framework was not perfect and North Korea cheated, but the deal did significantly roll back its nuclear weapons programme. Similarly in Iran’s case, it is far better to implement an incomplete but effective agreement than it is to scrap it in hopes of achieving the best outcome and end up with the worst. 

The Emperor vs the Adults: Donald Trump and Wilhelm II

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[He had] a taste for the modern – technology, industry, science – but at the same time [was] superficial, hasty, restless, without any deeper level of seriousness, without any desire for hard work … without any sense of sobriety, or balance and boundaries, or even for reality or real problems, uncontrollable and scarcely capable of learning from experience, desperate for applause and success … He wanted every day to be his birthday – unsure and arrogant, with an immeasurably exaggerated self-confidence and desire to show off.1

This condensed version of one German historian’s judgement on Kaiser Wilhelm II seems tailor-made for another leader, US President Donald Trump, self-styled on Twitter as the @realDonaldTrump.2

Comparaison n’est pas raison, goes the French saying, and all historical analogies are imperfect by nature. The world of the Kaiser and that of the new American president in some ways have little in common. There never was an @echteWilhelmII running the German Reich, even if it is all too easy to imagine a reincarnated Kaiser using Twitter.

Some analogies are less imperfect than others, however. Trump-as- Wilhelm-II works because it is grounded in personality and character traits. So it is not only a historical analogy: humans evolve slowly, and there is nothing surprising about finding, within the span of a century, two leaders sharing quasi-identical personalities. This is arguably the case between the German emperor and the American president, including in the manner in which the personalities express themselves, albeit via different mediums. Wilhelm II’s propensity to go on semantic rampages in the press or in public addresses is closely reminiscent of @realDonaldTrump’s tweetstorms. ‘No Chinese will ever again dare look cross-eyed at a German’, proclaimed the Kaiser to the troops setting off to suppress the Boxer Rebellion in what became known as the ‘Hun speech’.3 Calls arose for his abdication in 1908 after he managed to insult most of Germany’s partners in an intemperate interview with the Daily Telegraph. As in the case of Trump’s Twitter feed before and after the presidential election, examples abound of Wilhelm’s basic lack of limits.

There are plenty of dysfunctional leaders to be found in history – particularly in hereditary systems in which the legitimacy of a new ruler does not rest on his (or her) success in a worldly struggle for power. George III in Britain or Ludwig II in Bavaria come to mind. What gives relevance to a Trump–Wilhelm II analogy, as opposed to, say, the less useful Trump–Ludwig II parallel, is a combination of broadly comparable institutional and international realities. 

Imperial powers
During Wilhelm II’s reign (1888–1918), Germany could have been described as a halfway democracy. Its government was ultimately responsible to the emperor, not parliament or an elected president. The emperor was commander-in-chief of armed forces which planned their operations and ran their organisation largely unsupervised by the government, let alone by the Reichstag. Universal male suffrage had not been introduced in Prussia, the most powerful of Germany’s constituent states. The members of the federal parliament were elected by universal male suffrage, however, and parliament had the power of the purse. The Social Democratic Party had become its largest single force by 1914.

The United States, by contrast, is a well-developed, deeply rooted democracy with an elaborate and powerful set of checks and balances devised by the framers of its centuries-old constitution. Its second-to-none armed forces are placed under the direct control of the executive branch and closely scrutinised by an attentive and well-endowed legislative branch. But the president, as commander-in-chief, has imperial powers when it comes to launching military operations, so long as they do not entail the essentially symbolic and largely vestigial step of declaring war. The constraints of the War Powers Act and the power of the purse only make their effects felt over a matter of months. Since the cabinet is answerable to the president, its members have no constitutional power to thwart his will. With the creation of the National Security Council, the president has also acquired his own defence and security-policy apparatus. There are good reasons why the idea of an ‘imperial presidency’ caught on after Arthur Schlesinger published his book of that title in 1973.4 

In response to the Kaiser’s idiosyncrasies, key components of the German state’s civilian and military leadership attempted to limit the monarch’s ability to directly control the instruments at his theoretical disposal. He could and did override these institutional constraints, however, when he felt it to be necessary. This was facilitated by the interest that individual bureaucracies and their leaders could have in improving their position or achieving their policy objectives by playing with, rather than against, the Kaiser. There was no clear connection between military planning and the political objectives of a chancellor kept in the dark, and of a Kaiser who was not interested in the details until it was too late. 

When a crisis erupted, the resulting confusion and opacity helped prevent timely and appropriate decision-making, and would have done so even if the Kaiser, the chancellor or the head of the general staff had been seriously minded to avoid major war. This is the sad story which unfolded from the ‘blank cheque’ given to Austria–Hungary in early July 1914 (a Kaiser-driven initiative), to the Kaiser’s belated realisation, in early August, that this crisis was not going to end well. The previous quarter-century had already witnessed not only extraordinary brinksmanship by the Kaiser, with the Moroccan crises bringing Europe to the brink of war, but, no less egregiously, his ill-fated input into policy: firstly, by bringing Russia into the camp of France, shortly after getting rid of Bismarck, then by gradually transforming a generally friendly relationship with the British Empire into a state of enmity. No number of ‘adults’ were united or strong enough to control a Kaiser who was not simply a loose cannon but who also had some highly corrosive and strongly held ideas of his own, such as launching an arms race with Britain; securing Germany’s ‘place in the sun’; fighting the Yellow Peril; and supporting jihad by the Muslim world against the British, French and Russian empires.

Within a few weeks of President Trump’s inauguration, an oddly similar contest was under way between a freewheeling president and a group of adults balancing a sense of responsibility with the necessary expression of loyalty. Vice President Mike Pence, at the Munich Security Conference, provided a good example, first telling the audience that he had a message from the president expressing his full support of NATO, then stating: ‘With regard to Ukraine, the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which, as you know, President Trump believes possible.’5 This finely tuned ‘I said/he said’ sequence is what the French call un balancement circonspect, which means what it looks like. And as in the Kaiser’s day, there is no shortage of people who are ready to go along with the boss for reasons of ideology, self-interest or what they see as the national interest. Stephen Bannon and John Bolton are part of this ecosystem, no less than James Mattis and H.R. McMaster. And at the end of the day, the commander-in-chief has the first and the last word if he wishes to use his imperial prerogative in matters of war and peace. He also has his own, sometimes long-held, 140-character views: multilateral trade agreements are a bad deal; alliances are transactional; Muslims should be kept out of the country; a wall should separate Mexico from the United States; China is gouging the US economy; and a deal should be sought with Russia.

A world ready for Wilhelm II
This would be serious enough if today’s international system were reasonably stable, along the lines of the Cold War dispensation or of the unipolar moment of the 1990s, or indeed of a multipolar world in which the major players were satisfied powers and in which elements of global discipline were in place. This is clearly not the case: Russia proclaims its rejection of the post-Cold War system in Europe and seeks a post-Western order, while China extends prudently but relentlessly its ambitions in its neighbourhood; the Middle East is in a state of worsening turmoil; and the European Union is on the brink of disintegration following Brexit, a prospect which provokes no concern on the part of President Trump. There are some resemblances here with the situation prior to the First World War, not only because it is a multipolar dispensation, but also because of the doubts permeating the participants in the system of alliances. In 1914, each member of the two contending systems (the Triple Alliance of Berlin, Vienna and Rome; the Anglo–Franco–Russian Entente) had doubts about the reliability of their partners. This led them to hedge either by shifting away (Italy gradually moving from the Triple Alliance to the Entente) or by engaging in behaviour designed to force their allies’ hand (such as the German–Austrian and Franco–Russian interactions in July 1914). 

Such hedging was not required in America’s alliance system before President Trump’s election, given the unconditional nature of the corresponding commitments. These were strong enough to resist even substantial disagreement on a broad range of issues, from Suez to Iraq, not to mention Vietnam or the recurring burden-sharing debate. Yet by stating during the election campaign that NATO’s Article V is conditional, Donald Trump has made it so.6 Once Copernicus had stated that the Earth revolves around the Sun, it wasn’t possible to put it back where Ptolemy had intended it to be. Hedging has now become a necessity. As before the First World War, this can take several forms (sometimes simultaneously): cosying up to Russia or China; investing more in national or EU defence; going bilateral with the US; entertaining the nuclear option; and so on. Precisely because the options for hedging are multiple, this makes for an intrinsically more unstable global system. That observation is disturbing in its own right. It becomes alarming when it is linked to the peculiar problems posed by President Trump’s personality and the power he exercises in the American institutional framework.

One of the quips made at international conferences these days goes as follows: Donald Trump is the bipolar president of a multipolar world. Hopefully, this is an exaggeration. 

*   *   *

Even a robust analogy has its limits. But a weak analogy may still have virtue if it prompts thought. The final extension suggested here is that the Middle East contains the potential for generating the kind of wars (initially regional, subsequently global) which began in the Balkans during Wilhelm II’s reign. A major but declining power, Austria–Hungary, seizes on a real provocation (the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife) to cut down to size, as soon as possible, a threatening upstart (Serbia) thanks to a blank cheque from a powerful ally (Germany): in the merest of nutshells, this is how the First World War began. In the Middle East today, perhaps, a major power (Saudi Arabia) doing poorly on all fronts (Syria, Iraq, Yemen) feels threatened by a resurgent power (Iran) and seizes on a provocation to lock its American ally into war.

This does not pretend to be a prediction, even if it is a serious worry. But it is a reasonable description of a disorderly world, riven by rivalries between revisionist and status quo powers, against the backdrop of institutional confusion in a Trump-shocked Washington DC.

François Heisbourg is Chair of the IISS Council.


1 Thomas Nipperdey, in Deutsche Geschichte 1866–1918, as translated in Richard Evans, Reading German History (Abingdon: Routledge, 1997), p. 39.

2 The comparison has occurred to others. See, for example, Doug Bandow, ‘What Trump Has in Common with the Last German Emperor’, National Interest, 31 January 2017, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-skeptics/what-trump-has-common-the-last-german-emperor-19265?page=show.

3 Wilhelm II, speech in Bremerhaven, 27 July 1900, in Manfred Görtmacker, Deutschland im 19. Jahrhundert (Berlin: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 1996).

4 Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Imperial Presidency (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1973).

5 ‘Remarks by Vice President Pence at the Munich Security Conference’, 18 February 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/02/18/remarks-vice-president-munich-security-conference.

6 See François Heisbourg, ‘The Future of the U.S. Alliance System’, Foreign Affairs, 5 December 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-12-05/future-us-alliance-system.

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Freezing North Korea’s nuclear quest

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, IISS-Americas

Cold temperatures in much of the United States in mid-March have coincided with renewed attention to the concept of seeking a freeze on development of North Korea’s strategic-weapons systems as an interim goal. The idea attracts scepticism for good reason, but given the problems with all of the other policy options, freeze options need to be considered.

While denuclearisation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) must remain the goal, it has become increasingly unlikely in the foreseeable future. Pyongyang may once have been willing to trade elements of its nuclear programme for economic or diplomatic benefits, but five years’ experience with Kim Jong-un strongly suggests that this is no longer the case. Nuclear-armed status is now enshrined in the North Korean constitution, in Kim’s signature policy slogan and in the DPRK’s boasts about new weapons developments.

The past 12 months have seen a remarkable surge in North Korea’s capabilities. More than two dozen missile tests have included a medium-range Musudan missile that could reach all of Japan, a submarine-launched missile that could present multiple new approaches for attack, and solid-fueled systems that can be launched quickly. Tread-tracked launch vehicles provide off-road mobility, making detection far more difficult. A ground test of a warhead heat-shield simulated successful atmospheric re-entry. There was also a ground test of a propulsion system for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

It could soon get much worse. Within the next 12 months, North Korea may well conduct flight tests of warhead re-entry and of an ICBM. There is also a significant possibility that North Korea could conduct a live test of a nuclear-armed missile, exploding it in the ocean. That would certainly get our attention.

Every effort must be made to stop this progress or, second-best, to slow it. The first ICBM test would probably fail, but trying it would cross President Donald Trump’s tweeted red-line. A test of a nuclear-armed missile would cross a brighter redline that all concerned states surely ascribe to, explicitly stated or not. 

Escalating pressure on North Korea via tougher sanctions and other means, overt and covert, is in the works and clearly advisable. North Korea needs to face a clear choice between nuclear weapons and a sustainable economy. But pressure alone will not suffice. Even if concerned states could agree to pressure tactics that would get Kim’s attention without starving his people, such tactics would not prompt a policy change quick enough to stem what Pyongyang surely has in store over the next year. And without an engagement strategy that provides Kim with an off-ramp, he will see no option but to keep his foot on the accelerator. 

Military options are also on the table. They have not been tried before, so as not to spark resumption of the Korean War, with devastation of Seoul via the hundreds of conventional artillery pieces across the nearby demilitarised zone. Discussion of pre-empting North Korean missile tests must take into account the probable North Korean reaction. Diplomacy, morality and common sense dictate that the US not take military action against North Korea without full buy-in from the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan, which would bear the brunt of the retaliation. Seoul and Tokyo are highly unlikely to agree unless the pre-emption is directed against a missile being readied for attack against them, not just a test launch. 

Engagement is the least bad of the available options, and should be combined with pressure. A freeze on nuclear and missile tests as well as plutonium- and enrichment-related activity at Yongbyon should be an immediate objective. It would be best to freeze all fissile material production in North Korea, but in reality it is hard to see North Korea agreeing to the necessary verification measures beyond the known facilities at Yongbyon. A moratorium on those facilities and on nuclear and missile tests can be verified externally via satellite imagery and other ‘national technical means’.   

Moratoria are imperfect, including because they can be broken any time. The last one, agreed to on Leap Day 2012, lasted 15 days before Pyongyang announced a space launch that violated the US understanding of the deal. An earlier freeze on the DPRK nuclear programme under the terms of the 1994 Agreed Framework lasted for several years before Pyongyang violated it by pursuing a uranium-enrichment route to nuclear weapons. This does not mean the deal was a failure. In the eight years before the Agreed Framework officially collapsed, the nation’s ability to produce weapons-grade plutonium was significantly retarded. That freeze had real value.
Critics of the freeze idea contend that seeking only a moratorium would signal acceptance of North Korea as nuclear-armed. DPRK state media would surely portray it as such. But why should anybody accept North Korean propaganda? Any freeze proposal must continue to be coupled with demands for full denuclearisation, whether achievable or not.

The largest question concerns what price to pay for a freeze. China’s proposal for a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes in exchange for a halt to major US-ROK joint military exercises was appropriately rejected, as it would give in to North Korean extortion. Adjustments to future exercises could be considered, however, such as by not flying in nuclear-capable aircraft. At some point the US should also be willing to consider re-opening a process for concluding a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War.   

No such quid pro quos should be offered without the support of the ROK government, which would rightly want a seat at the table in any peace-treaty talks. Seoul may also want to ensure that a peace treaty did not mean the withdrawal of US forces or an end to the US-ROK alliance.

The current ROK government is skeptical of freeze proposals. Meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Munich on 21 February, ROK Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said that a mere freeze on North Korea's nuclear programme would be meaningless in light of its nuclear advances to date and the verification problem with regard to fissile-material production. The way the South Korean media framed the story suggested Tillerson had to be dissuaded from considering a freeze. In his most recent pronouncement, however, the Secretary of State said diplomacy has failed and that is time to ‘take a different approach’. 

The ROK position may soon change. When South Koreans choose a new president on 9 May, the betting is that they will elect a left-leaning candidate inclined to pursue engagement. As the Trump administration reviews policy options regarding the DPRK, the freeze idea should be kept in the mix.

A lexicon for the North Korea nuclear issue

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, IISS-Americas

The policy options for addressing North Korea’s nuclear challenge provide good examples of the differences between the fields of disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation. While the three terms are often used interchangeably by non-experts, they have distinct meanings and policy implications.

‘Nuclear disarmament’ is usually used in the global context of the quest for abolishing nuclear weapons, as called for in Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This week the phrase is much in the air at the United Nations, where 113 nations are meeting in an attempt to negotiate a ban on nuclear weapons. With the nuclear-armed states and most of their formal allies boycotting the forum, the impact will remain up in the air. 

The nuclear powers do, of course, favour disarmament by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Even North Korea professes this goal, to be carried out when the United States also gives up nuclear weapons. Keeping up such sophistry is apparently why the DPRK last October voted in favour of convening negotiations on a nuclear ban treaty, although it absented itself from a December follow-up vote in the General Assembly and from this week’s negotiations themselves.

Regarding the DPRK, the disarmament goal is usually expressed as ‘denuclearisation’. This term avoids judgment as to whether North Korea actually is nuclear-armed. Despite its five nuclear tests to date, concerned states are reluctant to officially conclude that North Korea possesses deliverable nuclear weapons, because doing so would be unnecessarily empowering. They cannot know for sure anyway.

With each nuclear test and pronouncement, prospects for voluntary disarmament by North Korea become increasingly dim. Up until a few years ago, North Korea expressed willingness, in principle, to trade its nuclear-weapons programme for sufficiently lucrative economic and political benefits. No longer. In 2012 North Korea changed its constitution to proclaim itself a ‘nuclear state’. It refuses to return to the denuclearisation goal of the Six Party Talks that remain China’s preferred diplomatic mechanism even though they have been in abeyance since 2007.

North Koreans now say they will only engage in arms control talks that would also bind the United States. As distinct from disarmament, ‘arms control’ implies limits on nuclear weapons, not their abolition. Bilateral nuclear negotiations between Washington and Moscow have always focused on arms control. The 2015 nuclear accord with Iran was also akin to arms control in that it restricted fissile material production capabilities rather than requiring zero uranium enrichment.

A freeze on North Korean nuclear and missile testing would be an arms control measure. Critics of the freeze policy option oppose it precisely because it de-prioritizes the goal of disarming the DPRK. If North Korea entered any talks on a freeze, it could be counted on to proclaim denuclearisation dead and its status as nuclear-armed affirmed. Its negotiating partners would disagree, of course. There is no contradiction in simultaneously holding to both arms control and disarmament goals. Stop, then roll-back, would be the mantra. 

‘Non-proliferation’ (with or without the hyphen) has long been the favoured term for policies addressing North Korea’s nuclear programme. The term means stopping the spread of nuclear weapons technology. The synonym ‘counter-proliferation’ is also used. It generally means the same thing, but with a more kinetic connotation. (I explored the nuances in a 2008 article.) It can also refer to steps to counter proliferation that has already occurred, as is now evident in the North Korean case. Prevention has failed, although not preventing use. The goal of reversal is much harder. While states may be willing to forgo future options in exchange for current benefits, they are far more reluctant to give up gains already made. 

‘Prevention’ has another meaning in the North Korean context. When US officials talk of ‘all options being on the table’, it is a euphemism for possible military action. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made that clear when he spoke with reporters in Seoul on 17 March. Many press reports characterised this as him saying ‘pre-emptive force’ was an option for dealing with North Korea.

Military action is only pre-emptive, however, in the case of countering an imminent attack. As former chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea Robert Gallucci explained in a 23 March commentary, military strikes to prevent missile test launches are ‘preventive’, not ‘pre-emptive’ measures. They are not generally condoned by international law. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a preventive action, albeit falsely premised on preventing the use of weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein did not have. It was an unwise war of choice, not of necessity. 

If solid intelligence were to indicate that North Korea was preparing to attack South Korea, Japan or the US with a nuclear-armed missiles, the circumstances would dictate a pre-emptive military strike to preclude the launch. Disabling missiles in other circumstances might be warranted so as to prevent North Korea from fully developing a capability to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles. Given the devastating war that would ensue, however, preventive military strikes must not be undertaken without agreement of the allies who would be attacked by North Korea in retaliation.

Why China is outdoing the US in Asia’s coercion contest

By Robert Ayson and Manjeet S. Pardesi, Victoria University of Wellington

North Korea’s intensifying nuclear provocations could well create the first major security crisis for President Donald Trump. Pyongyang is not only developing material capabilities: it is brandishing them in a demonstration of what the late Thomas Schelling called ‘the power to hurt’. These recent exercises in coercive diplomacy have seen the new US administration doing what Washington normally does: trying to get China to put more pressure on North Korea, reassuring Seoul and Tokyo that its alliance commitment to them remains undiminished, and indicating to Kim Jong-un’s regime that military options remain on the table.

The second and third of these measures play to America’s own strengths in the art of coercion. The peacetime commitment that underscores Washington’s Asian alliances and military presence in the region leaves little doubt that the United States has a potent capacity to deter a North Korean attack. Statements of resolve from the new administration (and even toying publically with preventive measures) confirm that US coercive diplomacy is well suited to encourage potential opponents to avoid war. But it is less clear that this approach, coupled with other standards from Washington’s coercion playbook such as economic sanctions, has been any good at circumscribing Pyongyang’s ability to build and exploit an increasingly threatening arsenal.

Yet the strong link between America’s coercion and the avoidance of war supports a wider regional goal: the preservation of the great-power peace that Asia has enjoyed for several decades. Success in maintaining this aspect of the status quo is not something to be taken for granted, especially by China whose economic development has presumed a peaceful external environment. But Washington has not been able to preserve the status quo in terms of the distribution of regional power. China has been advancing its extensive maritime territorial claims in East Asia, and raising the costs of American military intervention in a regional crisis. And it has done so practically without firing a shot in anger.

There is little doubt that should a war occur over the East China Sea, with Washington coming to Japan’s support, China would be bettered by American military options at most steps on the escalation ladder. And while Washington does not have the same level of alliance commitment at stake in the South China Sea, China’s still-limited capacity to use armed force at a distance would be easily put at risk by America’s firepower.

Washington’s ability to deter any decision by Beijing to resort to force should not be underestimated. But Washington finds it much harder to respond to Chinese coercion short of armed violence. China’s campaigns of pressure on Japan and on some of the rival claimants in the South China Sea would sound familiar to readers of Schelling’s account of the diplomacy of violence. Beijing has demonstrated its coercive options short of actual war on numerous occasions. These include the pressure placed successfully by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the Philippines at the Scarborough Shoal in 2012; China’s interactions with Vietnam in the Spratlys; and its naval and air patrols in the vicinity of the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea which send clear signals to Tokyo. Moreover, by militarising several South China Sea features Beijing is making a statement about the expanding area within which it wants others to know it has the capacity to exert military influence.

As the Trump era was beginning, there were some signs of a more robust approach designed to curtail China’s coercive appetite. In his nomination hearings, Rex Tillerson spoke of preventing China from accessing its South China Sea features. But it was not long before the new secretary of state’s message was walked back. This is symptomatic of a broader problem for the United States. There is not a lot Washington can do to deter China’s peacetime coercion in the region, apart from deliberately raising the risk of an Asian war. Trump has, on occasion, been willing to say some risky things about America’s relationship with China. But there are few obvious signs that his administration is determined to heighten the real competition in risk-taking with Beijing. Continuity seems more likely here than radical change.

The good news is that Beijing and Washington want peace in Asia. All other states should want that too. But as we argue in our recent article for Survival:

Each day Asia’s geopolitical peace is maintained, including through the interaction of American and Chinese deterrence efforts, a difficult peacetime problem grows for the supporters of the geopolitical status quo.

America’s challenge is to find a strategy which ensures that Asia’s peace is extended without compromising too much on its geopolitical interests, and the interests of its regional allies. China’s advantage is that it can support Asia’s great-power peace while all the time its position in the region strengthens.

Send Jared Kushner to Pyongyang

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, IISS–Americas

United States President Donald Trump has assigned his wunderkind son-in-law Jared Kushner no end of momentous tasks. Proclaimed shortly after the election as the man who could bring peace to Israel and Palestine, Kushner was subsequently tapped to mend fences with Mexico and Canada. Last week he was appointed to lead a White House SWAT team to overhaul the federal bureaucracy. This week it emerged that he was Trump’s go-between with China, personally arranging with China’s ambassador President Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit to Mar-a-Lago. Most recently, he flew to Iraq to get a first-hand assessment of the battle against the Islamic State.  

Where Kushner is needed next, is with North Korea. Seriously. Making him a presidential envoy to meet with recalcitrant leader Kim Jong-un could be a rare diplomatic game changer. And who better to engage with a family kleptocracy? Kim surely would appreciate the symbolism.

When Trump told the Financial Times that if China does not increase pressure on North Korea, the US will tackle North Korea alone, he probably did not have in mind such a diplomatic gambit. Indeed, the White House policy review of North Korea appears not to have included any kind of engagement strategy. Instead, the ‘new approach’ is heavily weighted toward pressure, in the form of secondary sanctions, covert actions and beefed-up military defences. 

Those muscular steps are all necessary, and they are all ones that Obama was pursuing. There is little new to be had in any North Korea policy review. A military pre-emptive strike is not on the cards, even though officials are prone to wink at it by saying ‘all options are on the table’. Every new administration quickly realises that military strikes are not a viable option, given the devastating war that would ensue when North Korea retaliates against South Korea and Japan. 

‘All options on the table’ does not mean ‘all’ if it excludes diplomacy. Not that engagement strategies with North Korea have a great track record. Obama’s 2012 ‘Leap Day’ deal lasted fewer than three weeks before Kim Jong-un announced plans for a satellite rocket launch that violated the oral terms of the agreement. Subsequent State Department efforts under John Kerry for informal dialogue got nowhere. The Six Party Talks under George W. Bush produced a landmark agreement in 2005 for denuclearisation coupled with diplomatic recognition and a peace treaty, but North Korea soon violated that deal, testing its first nuclear weapon a year later.   

One accord with North Korea that did have real value was Bill Clinton’s Agreed Framework to stop the plutonium weapons programme. Although North Korea violated that agreement too, by a embarking a few years later on an alternative path to nuclear weapons via highly enriched uranium. While the accord lasted, however, North Korea’s weapons production capability was significantly eroded.

Prospects look poor that any engagement offer would fare better than the Leap Day deal. North Korea’s accelerated pace of missile and nuclear testing indicates a driving intent to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Once he has that, Kim might be more inclined to pause and accept limits.   

As daunting as the prospects may be, Trump nevertheless needs to add an engagement plank to his pressure policy. If for nothing else, there are three tactical reasons for trying. Firstly, if China is to ramp up its own pressure on North Korea, it will insist on a parallel diplomatic track. Secondly, South Korea’s presidential election on 9 May to replace the disgraced Park Geun-hye is likely to produce a leftist leader inclined himself to engage with North Korea. Failing to join a diplomatic pursuit would put the US out of alignment with the two most important partners. Thirdly, sanctions are not an end in themselves. As in the Iran case, the purpose is to persuade North Korea to come to the negotiating table. If the door to talks is closed, a North Korea backed into a corner will have no recourse other than to come out fighting. 

And who knows what Kim thinks? It boggles the mind that the only American to have talked with him at length is offbeat former basketball star Dennis Rodman. Kim has not wanted to meet with other foreign visitors – not Director of National Intelligence James Clapper nor Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, nor even Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj.

It is at least conceivable that Kim would be more attracted by an offer to meet with Kushner, after the necessary groundwork was undertaken. North Koreans place utmost importance on family lineage. And while far from being birds of a feather, the two men are of similar age (Kim is 33 and Kushner, 36; they celebrated their birthdays two days apart in early January), and experienced similar rocket-like ascensions to political power.

On the campaign trail last year, Trump said he would be willing to meet with Kim, to try to hash out a deal over hamburgers. No such meeting is remotely possible, or advisable, unless prospects for success were teed up by lower-level discussions of the kind that Henry Kissinger had with Zhou En-lai in preparing Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China. Most recently, Kissinger was reportedly behind Kushner’s engagement with the Chinese. Let Kushner play the Kissinger role with North Korea.

When it comes to starting a nuclear war, size doesn't matter

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, IISS–Americas

At a United Nations event in Geneva earlier this month, I sparked controversy when I said that although most discussions on disarmament naturally focus on the states with the largest arsenals, it is the states with the smallest nuclear arsenals that are most apt to use them today. It was at a symposium on nuclear weapons risks hosted by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. 

I meant it not as a statement of causality, nor as an enduring principle. Neither did I suggest that attention directed toward Russian and American nuclear weapons is misplaced. The superpowers’ arsenals can destroy much of civilization, and there is ample reason to worry about their stewardship of both the weapons and the arms-control architecture. I stood by my claim about smallest arsenals being the most worrisome, however, as a factual observation on the current world situation. 

North Korean nuclear use 

Firstly, consider North Korea. Estimated to possess enough fissile material for 10-20 nuclear weapons, Pyongyang insists that it is ready to employ them if threatened. Its rhetoric and accelerated pace of missile testing suggests that North Korea would be the first to use nuclear weapons if it believed itself to be under attack. Its nuclear posture incorporates the ‘use them or lose them’ principle. 

Although the military signalling coming from Washington might suggest otherwise, it is highly doubtful that the US would attack North Korea unless war was imminent. Yes, the Tomahawk strikes against the Syrian air base and the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb employed against the Taliban demonstrate President Donald Trump’s willingness to use force, as Vice President Mike Pence recently warned. But US officials know that any similar use of force in North Korea would most likely spark quick retaliation against US bases and other targets in South Korea and Japan. There is a strong element of bluff in the US position. Witness Trump’s deceptive claim of ‘sending an armada’ toward North Korea, when in fact the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group was sailing in the opposite direction. 

Bluff can serve a useful deterrence purpose. So far, North Korea has not conducted a sixth nuclear test, which was widely predicted to take place near 15 April, the 105th anniversary of founding father Kim Il-sung’s birth. Yet deterrence rhetoric is a double-edged sword if it increases Pyongyang’s sense of paranoia. Kim Jong-un is not crazy or irrational, but a heightened state of fear could make him more prone to misperception and miscalculation. If the US shot down a North Korean missile launched for testing purposes, for example, Kim might think it was a prelude to a regime-changing invasion and act accordingly. 

South Asian nuclear use 

Secondly, consider discussions about first use of nuclear weapons that recently arose with respect to India and Pakistan. The fact that they have the second and third smallest nuclear arsenals - about 120 and 130 warheads respectively – does not make them more prone to use the weapons. But evolving nuclear doctrines and mistaken signals might. 

At the beginning of the decade, Pakistan lowered the threshold for nuclear use by introducing short-range missile systems and declaring a willingness to arm them with nuclear weapons and use them in the event of an Indian cross-border military incursion with integrated battle groups. The Indian Army had signalled that such an incursion, labelled ‘Cold Start’, was their plan to respond to another case of cross-border terrorism on the order of the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament. Cold Start was never adopted by policymakers, however, and is an unlikely response to another terrorist outrage. India is more likely to employ targeted strikes on terrorist camps in Pakistan, as it did on 29 September in retaliation for an attack on the Uri training camp in Kashmir. Meanwhile, false signalling about Cold Start prompted an unnecessary nuclear build-up. 

Several serving and former Indian officials have been sending other signals of late that may spark further nuclear escalation. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, former Strategic Forces Command commander-in-chief Lt. Gen. B.S. Nagal and former national security advisor Shivshankar Menon hinted in various ways that India may reconsider its nuclear policies of no first use and counter-value deterrence (threatening massive retaliation against Pakistani cities). 

Political scientist Vipin Narang caused a stir at the Carnegie Endowment Nuclear Policy Conference last month, when he warned that musings by that trio suggest that India is moving toward a ‘first strike’ counterforce policy of pre-emptively knocking out Pakistani nuclear forces in the event of imminent Pakistani first use. Although several other Western scholars and journalists reached similar conclusions, Indian strategists strongly denied any policy change was in the offing. They noted, for example, that India showed no sign of increasing its nuclear arsenal to the level that would be needed for counterforce. 

Whatever the reality, the signals reinforced Pakistan’s belief that India would, in fact, strike first and that countermeasures are needed. Pakistan itself ratcheted up the nuclear rhetoric in the contest of the Uri attack when Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif threatened use of tactical nuclear weapons against India. Nuclear sword rattling intended to enhance deterrence can instead heighten deterrence instability.

The situation calls for dialogue between India and Pakistan, not least to address misperceptions that are further spurring a nuclear-arms race and the dialling up of alert status. Such dialogue is sadly absent. India demands as a precondition that Pakistan takes meaningful action against anti-India terrorists, and Pakistan insists that talks include discussion of the Kashmir dispute. 

Neither is there any dialogue involving North Korea. Pyongyang refuses to accept the denuclearisation goal that Washington and its partners have set as a precondition for returning to the Six Party Talks that a decade ago briefly held promise. Communications are instead being carried out through rhetoric and military signalling. To quote irony’s favourite catchphrase, what could go wrong?

Comey’s dismissal: a tipping point?

By Jonathan Stevenson, Senior Fellow for US Defence and Editor of Strategic Comments

The striking revelation that in February US President Donald Trump asked then-FBI director James Comey to kill the FBI’s investigation of former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s Russia ties – which had just forced Flynn’s resignation – has sent the White House into near-meltdown. This information, based on Comey’s contemporaneous internal memorandum of the conversation, further strengthens the conclusion that Trump’s primary motivation for firing Comey last week was to head off the FBI’s investigation of possible Trump-campaign collusion with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The administration’s purported explanation for the firing was that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, guided by his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, had concluded that Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server – including Comey’s pre-election revelation that the FBI had discovered new emails possibly related to the investigation, and his recent inaccurate Senate testimony about the nature of those emails – had irreparably damaged Comey’s credibility, and that Trump was acting upon their recommendation in order to restore the FBI’s public image. Yet even without Comey’s memo, for the administration to exculpate Clinton and inculpate Comey was so arch as to be laughable – think Captain Renault shutting down Rick’s Café for illicit gambling – given Trump’s public history of doing just the opposite. To make the episode still more ridiculous, Comey’s dismissal immediately followed his request for more resources for the Russia investigation.

Republican lawmakers nevertheless appeared initially willing to swallow the Clinton-email justification; some said that Democrats shouldn’t complain, since they themselves had been appalled by Comey’s pre-election intervention. In the event, as new official explanations replaced earlier ones willy-nilly, Trump himself conceded to NBC News’s Lester Holt that ‘this Russia thing’ had been on his mind in getting rid of Comey – close to an admission that he intended to obstruct justice.

Before his dismissal, Comey appeared to be on a mission of sorts. He had earned a reputation for integrity in 2004, as deputy attorney general, by thwarting the efforts of then-president George W. Bush’s White House counsel to inveigle a hospitalised and sedated attorney general John Ashcroft into approving a surveillance programme that Comey and his staff had determined was unlawful. In congressional hearings, he seemed to acknowledge that his October surprise had tainted that reputation, finding the notion that he might have affected the election’s results ‘mildly nauseous’. Comey’s doggedness in the pursuit of the truth about the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia thus potentially served two purposes: diverting blame for Trump’s victory from Comey himself and, in any case, rehabilitating his status as a law-enforcement official. Trump, for his part, was offended that Comey had implied that his victory was unmerited, and outraged at his assertion that, contrary to Trump’s claims, the Obama administration had not authorised or executed any wiretaps on Trump. But what must have really scared the president was that for Comey the rule of law overrode personal loyalty to Trump – in short, that Comey would put his country first.

While a number of Republican legislators have been critical of Trump’s performance as president, few have been willing to back up words with deeds – for instance, by voting against his appointments or the bills he supports. The Comey firing, however, constitutes a new level of egregiousness, and could become a tipping point for popular and official frustration with presidential abuses. To be sure, 80% of Republican voters still support Trump, and his base has continued to express firm loyalty. But Republican Senators Burr, Collins, Corker, Flake, Graham, Heller, Lee, McCain, Sasse and Toomey, among others, have expressed grave concerns about Trump’s recent conduct, and Republicans are increasingly calling for an independent investigation of the connections between Trump’s team and Russia. On Tuesday, McCain commented that Trump’s conduct had grown to ‘Watergate size and scale’, as some Democrats began to raise the possibility of impeachment explicitly. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s stonewalling support may be cracking, as he has pleaded for ‘less drama’ from the White House for the sake of the Republicans’ legislative agenda. And according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday, a 59% majority of Americans – 79% of Democrats and 41% of Republicans – favour an independent investigation. In dumping Comey, Trump might have sacrificed long-term political security for short-term bureaucratic insulation.

The United States may now be in a low-simmering constitutional crisis. Even so, analogies with Watergate – and the trigger effect that President Richard Nixon’s firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox (the ‘Saturday Night Massacre’) had – tend to be too pat. The United States was not as polarised in the early 1970s as it is now, and Nixon faced a Democratic Congress. Trump, however, may have under-estimated the degree of bureaucratic as well as congressional pushback he is courting. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe has directly contradicted Trump administration claims that Comey had lost the confidence of the FBI rank-and-file. Comey’s unceremonious termination appears only to have redoubled his own determination to save his reputation: he has indicated that he would testify publicly before Congress about the Russia investigation and related matters. If, as is rumoured, Flynn and Paul Manafort, Trump’s ex-campaign chairman, are indicted, they could be induced to provide testimony that damages Trump.

Especially in light of Comey’s memo about the Flynn inquiry, disgust within the FBI could produce a new ‘Deep Throat’, whose revelations could intensify public opinion against Trump and galvanise more substantial bipartisan opposition in Congress. Indeed, several significant leakers have already emerged. It remains somewhat unlikely that inside disclosures would give rise to impeachment under the present Republican-dominated Congress. But, combined with Trump’s poor domestic performance, his increasingly evident psychological and intellectual unsuitability for his job, and his consequently cascading infelicities, they could erode enough Trump voter support to flip Congress to the Democrats at the midterm elections in 2018. In that case, impeachment – or removal by other means – would become more than a merely theoretical possibility.

Mattis’ difficult sell in Singapore

© US Department of Defense

By Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs; Editor of Survival

US Defense Secretary James Mattis travels to Singapore to attend the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue this weekend for a by-now familiar, but no-less difficult, challenge: to convince American partners and potential adversaries that the wheels are not coming off his country’s foreign policy.

It will be a hard sell. The immediate context, of course, is Donald Trump’s first foreign trip as president, from which he returned last weekend. It went well enough at first. Trump appeared, for whatever reason, to feel at home in Saudi Arabia, and his Saudi hosts, with other invited Arab leaders, were pleased by the president’s re-affirmation that US policy will now move to be more in line with their own implacable hostility towards Iran, as well as his assurance that the days of human-rights lectures – such as they got tired of hearing from both the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations – are over.

His reception in Israel was rather more mixed. For one thing, it has dawned on many right-wing Israelis that the administration might not rubber stamp their Greater Israel dreams. Perhaps more significantly, the president’s mercurial personality is simply unnerving – as when he appeared to reveal Israeli-shared intelligence with Russian guests in the Oval Office. (As Steven Simon and I wrote last week, the incident – while containable in its damage – confirmed the worries of a recently retired, very senior Israeli security official, who told us when we visited Israel in January, that the incoming president’s unpredictable character posed a potential threat to his country.)

The European leg was a disaster. Trump somehow could not bring himself to deliver the simple and unconditional reaffirmation of NATO’s Article V commitment that his aides had promised would be forthcoming. He was more motivated to lecture Chancellor Angela Merkel about Germany’s trade surplus with the United States, complaining specifically about car sales while seemingly unaware that much of Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen production takes place in states such as North Carolina and employs almost three-quarters of a million Americans. (There is, to be sure, a strong case that net German over-saving contributes to chronic international imbalances, most egregiously in Europe itself, but this is not a case that the US president seems suited to deliver.)

European leaders were clearly shaken, if not altogether surprised, by the roughness of their encounter with the new president. Merkel herself expressed her disquiet at a campaign stop in a Munich beer hall, suggesting, not for the first time, that Europe may no longer be able to rely on the United States, and may have to rely more on itself. This provoked another Twitter eruption from Trump.

There was one thing above all that the Europeans hoped to hear from Trump – a reaffirmation that the United States will abide by the Paris climate accord. They didn’t hear it; the president said he would decide sometime this week. His decision, expected to be announced in the afternoon of 1 June, will be, by far, the most important news of this week, and it is a subject that should be discussed, as has happened in past years, at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue. Indeed, it is an excellent example of one of the central, recurring dramas of the Trump presidency so far, revolving around the question of whether the erratic president, or respected figures such as Mattis, can tell us more about the future of US foreign policy.

The New York Times reported Wednesday on a major struggle in Washington and the US more broadly to shape the decision, with corporate leaders, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former head of Exxon, urging the president to abide by the accord that was signed by President Obama. Secretary Mattis himself stated in his January confirmation hearings that ‘climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.’ This includes, obviously, the Middle East, including Syria where already occurring climate change likely contributed to droughts that, in turn, helped precipitate the country’s devastating civil war.

It is important to emphasise the words already occurring. Plausible scenarios for the future range from the mere exacerbation of ongoing misery and insecurity to a truly catastrophic impact on the course of human civilisation. Early affected areas include population centres of the Asia-Pacific region. And the conclusion that the United States couldn’t care less will undoubtedly spill over into other areas of American diplomatic effort. If the US does pull out, then climate change will move to the top of the list of acute long-term threats that other countries may decide they have to handle without US leadership.

This post is part of the 2017 IISS Shangri-La Voices blog. It will provide a lively mix of news and views from the 16th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, taking place in Singapore from 2–4 June.

Critics are wrong: Iran remains in compliance with nuclear accord

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, IISS–Americas

On 12 June, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano told the quarterly meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors that the agency is verifying and monitoring Iran’s implementation of ‘all its nuclear-related commitments’ under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He did not say Iran is in compliance, because judging this is not the IAEA’s role, but the report he presented earlier in the month showed no deviations from Iran’s obligations.

Governments are free to make their own JCPOA compliance determinations. The US did so in an 18 April letter from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Congress, which said that Iran had been in compliance up to that date. Legislation concerning the JCPOA requires such a certification every three months. Other parties to the JCPOA do not have similar legislative requirements, but all – with the exception of Iran, which criticizes US compliance with sanctions relief provisions – have spoken positively about the implementation of the deal (such as in a statement by EU Foreign Policy Chief to the UN on 9 May). 

Some critics of the Iran deal see it differently. In a 5 June analysis, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), which has contributed greatly over the years to public understanding of the Iranian nuclear programme, claimed ‘persistent violations’ by Iran. In fact, the only clear breaches that have been documented were two times last year when Iran briefly exceeded the 130-tonne limit on heavy water stockpiles. (Contrary to claims by some pro-deal advocates, the JCPOA did impose a 130t limit, albeit written in a roundabout way.) 

As critics note, these instances show a worrisome effort by Iran to press the envelope on what is allowed. But critics often omit context and perspective. The amount of heavy water was limited under the deal as an extra precaution against Iran being able to produce plutonium in heavy-water moderated research reactors. With the disabling of the Arak reactor in January 2016, Iran possesses no such reactors. We can be reasonably certain about this because construction of new research reactors is hard to conceal from preying intelligence agencies. Therefore, Iran’s heavy water is of little current proliferation concern. 

IAEA reports on Iran are less detailed than they were before the JCPOA. The main reason is that Iran is no longer considered by the IAEA to be in non-compliance with its safeguards agreement. This does not necessarily preclude more fulsome reporting, and as a private researcher, I too wish I had more current details about Iran’s nuclear programme. To claim that the IAEA is ‘withholding’ information, however, is an exaggeration.

Governments have access to many more details than are included in reports that have unlimited circulation. The US and the other major powers who negotiated the JCPOA talk to IAEA officials every day. In addition, before every board meeting, the IAEA Secretariat provides detailed technical briefings to all member states. On 6 June, for example, the Secretariat briefed members about Iran’s most recent shipment to Oman of 20t of heavy water for holding while a buyer is sought. The JCPOA limit specifically applies to heavy water ‘in Iran’ so such transfers are not a violation, although the practice ought to be stopped because of the arguments it sparks.

The 6 June technical briefing also covered most of the issues which the ISIS analysis characterised as ‘compliance controversies’ that the IAEA report skirted. There was a debate among parties to the JCPOA, for example over how many advanced IR-6 centrifuges Iran is allowed to operate in a cascade for R&D purposes. Does ‘roughly ten’ mean ten plus/minus one or up to 13? It’s been settled at 11, though a smaller issue remains concerning whether more than two IR-6 centrifuges can be run individually for mechanical testing. Without excusing Iran’s pushing the envelope, it is helpful to keep a perspective on the difference between ten and 13 centrifuges as a contribution to Iran’s knowledge about how the centrifuges work. Iranian production rates for rotor tubes and centrifuge bellows is another matter under discussion. It should be kept in mind that production rates are not the same as stockpiles, since much of what is made is unusable. In fact, Iran’s stockpile of advanced centrifuge rotors has dropped by triple digits since the JCPOA implementation day in January 2016 because so many had to be discarded.

Perspective is also useful in examining claims about Iran’s re-enrichment of depleted uranium. The ISIS analysis summary gives a misleading impression when it says that Iran has ‘exploited a loophole in the JCPOA and enriched a considerable amount of natural uranium using its existing stocks of depleted uranium.’ Later the report correctly explains that Iran enriched depleted uranium to bring it back to the level of natural uranium (which is not the same as ‘enriching natural uranium’). The analysis does not explain why this should be a significant proliferation concern, since Iran already has ample amounts of natural uranium gas and the re-enrichment adds only a fraction to its stockpile. 

In earlier posts (here and here), I explained why low enriched uranium (LEU) in sludge and other waste material is not counted against the 300kg stockpile limit for Iran. The ISIS continues to complain about the Joint Commission’s decision to exclude such material from the limit, calling it ‘fuzzy math’, but it does not explain why hard-to-recover uranium in waste products should be a significant proliferation concern. If Iran ever were to try the herculean task of recovering it, the IAEA would know, because the waste sites are monitored and there are easier ways for Iran to produce LEU.   

Among the many important technical points in the ISIS analysis and in a 5 April Congressional testimony by ISIS President David Albright, is the highlighting of the IAEA’s comment that it is continuing to verify and monitor the nuclear weaponisation ban in Section T of the JCPOA – over Russian objections, it seems. 

I agree it would be good to know how the monitoring is being done. Apparently the IAEA has not visited any military sites – any such visit surely would have been the subject of a news leak. It is wrong for a precedent to be set about not visiting military sites, though some such visits eventually will have to be allowed for the agency to ever reach a ‘broader conclusion’ under the Additional Protocol that all nuclear activity in Iran has remained in peaceful activities.

In the meantime, monitoring the Section T commitments involves a range of activities besides on-site inspection. The IAEA gleams a great deal of information from open sources and from intelligence briefings by member states. If such information points to anomalies, the IAEA then makes queries which, if not satisfactorily answered, can spark a request for a site visit. Rather than seeking broad access to Iranian military sites, which Tehran would never allow and which would be unlikely to turn up any violations anyway, the IAEA should reserve its site visit requests to specific instances when it has actionable information and for which it would have the strong support of the Board of Governors.   

One other important point that the IAEA should address in upcoming reports is its ability to monitor Iran’s enrichment R&D activity. IAEA cameras should be able to continuously observe the advanced centrifuge cascades, to ensure that the number does not exceed ‘roughly ten’. It is not certain that they can do so today.

As the US Congress considers legislation that would apply new sanctions on Iran, it is useful for analysts to provide sound and fair assessments of Iran’s nuclear activity. Having consulted with experts in three capitals, without having received funding from any organisation for this purpose, and without insisting that I am infallible, I am contributing this post as an effort to provide balance to the public debate.

The perils of the DUP’s national empowerment

By Jonathan Stevenson, Senior Fellow for US Defence; Editor of Strategic Comments

The Conservative Party’s loss of its parliamentary majority in the recent snap election made Theresa May look almost as strategically inept as her predecessor, David Cameron. Among other things, it necessitated that the Tories find a suitable coalition partner, and by default they have chosen the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), now Northern Ireland’s largest party, which won ten parliamentary seats. Founded by the late Rev. Ian Paisley, the firebrand Protestant minister, the DUP is socially conservative (opposing abortion and gay rights), sectarian and vehemently unionist. It is a throwback to the days when Brits took overweening pride in the empire, and in the union with Northern Ireland, and would therefore strongly support the nostalgic aspects of Brexit as well as the impending departure from the European Union advocated by the Tories. But the DUP is also being fiercely challenged by Sinn Féin, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA)’s political alter ego, which won only one less seat in the devolved assembly elections last March and only three fewer seats in the House of Commons (though its policy of abstention bars the party’s MPs from taking those seats). Overall, the Tories’ resort to the DUP reflects their underestimation of the Brexit vote’s destabilising effect on Northern Irish politics.

Sinn Féin, whose supporters overwhelmingly voted to stay in the EU, as Northern Ireland did as a whole by 56%, believes Brexit would negate a vital premise of the Belfast Agreement that established a devolved power-sharing arrangement and ended ‘The Troubles’ in 1998. The membership of both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in the EU was the most important factor in making that agreement’s overlay of a single multicultural nation on top of separate sovereign entities a psychologically sustainable compromise. An increasingly integrated Europe created economic incentives and political ideas compelling enough to move the UK, the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland to moderate their national identities. Accordingly, the Belfast Agreement contemplates a soft, permeable border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and incorporates cross-border arrangements like those adopted by the EU, regulating areas such as agriculture, education and tourism on a bi-consensual basis. But one of the Brexiteers’ primary grievances is excessive immigration, and addressing that would require a hard physical border between the UK and any EU state. The only such border is Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic.

Furthermore, the possibility of the Conservative Party–DUP coalition comes at a time of deep political dysfunction in Northern Ireland. The devolved assembly has been suspended for three months due to differences between the DUP and Sinn Féin, as well as Sinn Féin’s desire to show its muscle in the wake of the Brexit vote. Now those differences have only intensified. Sinn Féin leaders have repeated calls for Northern Ireland to secure special EU status upon the UK’s exit, and warned that any Conservative Party–DUP partnership will likely be short-lived and ‘end in tears’. Their scepticism and alarm are not surprising. 

Prime Minister Theresa May called an early election mainly to consolidate support for a ‘hard’ Brexit, which entails no freedom of movement within the EU, no single market, no customs union and no European Court of Justice jurisdiction over the UK. The stratagem backfired when the Conservative Party failed to win an outright majority. But she is still politically compelled to try to salvage a hard Brexit, even if those advocating a softer exit have gained traction – indeed, perhaps all the more so on that account – and that could mean establishing a hard border. While May has been dismissive of the hard border problem, even EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier – who is loath to aggravate the constitutional issue between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland – has acknowledged the practical difficulty of keeping the border free of the kinds of physical installations that antagonised republicans during The Troubles, which disappeared after the Belfast Agreement was signed. Although the DUP has recognised the inflammatory nature of a reimposed hard border and voiced opposition to it, it may feel obliged to comply with the wishes of the Conservative Party to consolidate the partnership that has empowered it. This would intensify Sinn Féin’s motivation to push for a referendum on whether Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom or united with the Irish Republic, which the party began urging immediately after the Brexit vote on 23 June 2016. 

As the junior coalition partner, the DUP will hold the balance of power, which in some situations may enable it to ‘wag the dog’. For instance, it might have the leverage to insist on strong and public Tory support for its resistance to any referendum. In that case, Northern Irish republicans would face the strongest UK-wide opposition to their agenda since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, well before the 1994 ceasefires, which were facilitated in part by a more moderate stance taken by her successor John Major, and triggered the peace process culminating in the Belfast Agreement. Worse still, should power-sharing under the Belfast Agreement – already in some jeopardy – break down indefinitely, direct rule by Westminster would resume. Northern Irish republicans would then confront the ignominy of being directly governed not only by Great Britain but also, in part, by the DUP, which might not be above overt triumphalism. In these circumstances, a sustained surge of dissident violence, ‘licensed’ or perhaps even joined by the Provisionals themselves, would become more likely. This could prompt loyalist retaliation and potentially a major political and security crisis in Northern Ireland. 

While outgoing Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has voiced concerns about the coalition’s potential disruption of Northern Irish politics and government, unionist leaders have tended to dismiss them – Lord Trimble scoffing at ‘scaremongering’ and DUP officials issuing reassurances that it will engage with the Conservative Party only on an issue-by-issue basis, dubbed ‘supply and confidence’, and keep sectarianism and constitutional issues out of the relationship. This seems easier said than done, as the DUP has also indicated that it will seek assurances from the Tories that there will be no referendum on Irish unification and no post-Brexit special EU status for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s ‘marching season’ has begun, and will peak with the unionist Battle of the Boyne celebrations on 12 July. This period has always made for frayed nerves and sudden provocations in the province, and this year warrants special attention. An especially tense and eventful marching season could signal deeper trouble to come.

Deterring North Korea the wrong way

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, IISS-Americas, and Michael Elleman, Senior Fellow for Missile Defence

There is no need to remind; North Korea knows the United States is mighty. It knows this first-hand, from the bombing raids in the Korean War that flattened the country so thoroughly that the US Air Force ran out of targets. Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) state propaganda outlets constantly rail against American hostility, to the point of paranoia. There is no reason to think leader Kim Jong-un doubts America’s resolve to respond to attack.

So if President Donald Trump’s threats of ‘fire and fury’ are intended to reinforce deterrence, they serve no useful purpose. Rather, such statements are counter-productive, in at least three ways. Firstly, they reinforce the North Korean sense of paranoia and thereby heighten the potential for war. The gravest danger in this situation is that the DPRK will come to perceive itself to be under attack. If so, its natural response will be strike first, even launching nuclear-armed missiles in the fear that otherwise these assets will be pre-emptively destroyed and it would have no second-strike capability.

Secondly, the threats alarm US allies in the region in ways that undermine the alliance structure. South Korea and Japan are adamantly opposed to the US starting a preventive war in which they would bear the brunt of North Korean retaliation. From what we hear in Washington, diplomats from both countries have been plaintively asking what on earth Trump is up to. Perceptions of credibility rest not just on the means and will to act, but on the wisdom of action. Each time the president utters a threat that puts South Korean and Japanese lands and lives at risk, it weakens faith in the US partnership.

Thirdly, bombastic threats undermine the president’s credibility. The red line Trump drew on 2 January –that North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) development ‘won’t happen’ – was crossed twice last month with successful ICBM tests. The ‘fire and fury’ threat immediately provoked North Korea to claim plans to simultaneously test four missiles in the direction of Guam. President Barack Obama was pilloried for failing to enforce his redline against Syrian use of chemical weapons, but he at least succeeded in bringing about the surrender of the vast bulk of that country’s chemical-weapons arsenal. North Korea, by contrast, has only expanded its strategic capabilities in the face of Trump’s thunder.

North Korea’s response now could well escalate the war of words beyond the realm of rhetoric. A statement issued on 10 August by the Korean Central News Agency said four Hwasong-12 missiles will cross over Japan and ‘hit the waters 30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam’. This would be dangerously close for a test. There is a finite probability that one of the missiles will overshoot its target and strike land.

A missile’s accuracy is determined by many factors, including those associated with the navigation and guidance unit, about which little is known in the case of the Hwasong-12, which has failed in three of four test flights. While navigation and guidance errors will negatively impact accuracy, they are small relative to errors associated with the process of shutting down the missile’s engine. Errors in the timing of engine shut down, and variations in residual thrust after shutting off the flow of propellant, have the most impact. For a Hwasong-12 flying toward Guam, we would expect to see timing and residual-thrust variations resulting in an average miss distance of seven to 10 km. Larger errors are possible, such that the probability of accidently hitting Guam is just under one percent. This may not seem large, but given the consequences of an accidental strike, the risk of escalation is enormous. 

If any of the launches were on an azimuth toward Guam, which would be ascertained by radar within about 100 seconds of launch, the US would need to activate missile defences to try to shoot them down, using Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries in Guam and possibly SM-3 Block IA or IB batteries on Aegis ships. It would be the first time such systems had been used in an actual live-fire situation, and the probability of success, especially against multiple incoming missiles, is not known.

Recognising the possibility that they could be intercepted, North Korea would probably send missiles in an azimuth that would avoid Guam entirely, hitting the open seas. The US might still try to intercept them, if Trump decided he needed to do so to back up his warning. If the interception were to fail, however, it would undercut credibility of US defences. If the interception worked, as we would dearly hope, it would be the first direct kinetic clash between US and North Korean military forces since a US helicopter was shot down over North Korea in 1994.

What North Korea’s next move would then be is unpredictable, particularly if it believed the interception was a prelude to further military action. To avoid deadly misperception, the US needs a channel of communication with Pyongyang. A public shouting match is no help. 

Rollback? Trump’s Iran claims not just flawed but dangerous

By Steven Simon, John J. McCloy ’16 Visiting Professor of History at Amherst College, and Contributing Editor to Survival

The Trump administration, for all its disarray, has a clear and consistent policy toward the Middle East. In other theatres, administration policy seems to lack organising principles – in Europe, for example, where the United States’ commitment to NATO has been both derided and valourised, and in Asia, where China is a threat one minute and an ally the next. Washington’s approach to the Middle East, by contrast, is distinguished by its clarity. The organising principle is that Iran is the root of all evil.

There is no doubt that Iran is the root of some evil, but Mr Trump’s totalising claim and the exculpation of other regional states’ role in the current instability is not just analytically flawed but dangerous, leading ineluctably to hazardous policy objectives.

During the Cold War, American hardliners demanded ‘rollback’ of Soviet power from Eastern Europe. They viewed containment, the prevailing strategy toward the Soviet Union, as strategically and morally obtuse. The problem with rollback, however, was that the Soviet Union had an asymmetrically greater interest in holding on to Eastern Europe. These states were the mostly flat plain through which Germany had funnelled an army that killed millions. Moscow was not going to surrender this vital buffer easily; a US effort to wrest Eastern Europe from Soviet rule might, therefore, escalate uncontrollably. Rollback never really gained traction, until the Soviets, under Mikhail Gorbachev’s leadership, came to trust West Germany enough to be relatively relaxed about dissolving the Warsaw Pact.

After Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and renewed focus on Iran, it is hard not to think of the Cold War rollback debate. Even the language of neo-rollback advocates recalls the apocalyptic wars of the twentieth century. Iran, they contend, wants land corridors to the West to strengthen Hizbullah and launch a second front against Israel while keeping the Assad regime alive.

Strengthening Hizbullah and using it to harass Israel have long been Iranian goals, but in the Trumpian rhetoric they have been transformed into a sinister plan for regional dominion. Phrases such as ‘land corridors’ mimic the geopolitical language of the interwar period, implying an equivalence between the fascist threat to European security in the twentieth century and the Shia threat to Middle Eastern security in the twenty-first. How much of this just bubbles up from the subconscious and how much is sly reference is hard to say. But the effect is to convey urgency and existential danger.

In reality, the Iranian behaviour that has catalysed talk of rollback has not changed since the 1980s, when Israel’s assault on Palestinian militants in Lebanon spurred Shia resentment and ambition, opening the door to Iran. Fighting between Syria and Israel forged a convergence of interest between Damascus and Tehran. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. And that was 35 years ago, before many advocates of Iran rollback were born.

Israel rightly points to Hizbullah’s inventory of Iranian missiles as a serious threat. These stockpiles, however, were created without a land corridor. Weapons were flown into Damascus and trucked into Lebanon. The possibility of a land corridor exists only because Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq – the sturdiest possible barrier between Iran and the Levant – was toppled in 2003.

Neither Israel nor the US has devised a way to sever the umbilical link between Hizbullah and Iran, or to split Syria from Iran. There was hope in early 2011, when Bashar al-Assad supposedly agreed to abandon Iran in return for the Golan Heights. This was allegedly curtailed first by Israel’s disinterest, then by war in Syria. Iran’s costly defence of Syria since then has been consistent with their deep reciprocal reliance.

The US has run hot and cold on Iran ever since the Islamic Revolution. The CIA was still passing intelligence to Iran in late 1979. A wish for rapprochement led the US to sell weapons to Iran in the 1980s. That turned into a failed arms-for-hostages deal and a renewed tough line toward Tehran. Yet even after Iran-backed suicide bombers killed US marines in Beirut, and Iranian mines blasted a US warship and other vessels under US protection, the Reagan administration declined to escalate militarily. 

George H.W. Bush subordinated US hostility towards Iran to the war against Saddam in 1991. The Clinton administration anathematised both Iran and Iraq. Although Iran was complicit in the 1996 Khobar bombing, Mohammad Khatami’s election as president produced a thaw; the US never retaliated. After 9/11, the US and Iran cooperated in Afghanistan, followed by another swing against Iran as part of an ‘axis of evil’. The Obama administration embraced toughened multilateral sanctions, cyber war and sabotage, but entered into successful diplomacy after the election of Hassan Rouhani. Given this cyclical pattern, renewed assertiveness and anxiety is no surprise.

The nuclear deal with Iran partly explains the current push for rollback. Israel and the Gulf states have pocketed the deal’s ten years without a nuclear-armed Iran in their neighbourhood, moving the goalposts to what they see as the linked threat of Iranian regional aggression: weapons transfers to Houthi rebels in Yemen; support for a seriously wounded Syrian ally; influence in Baghdad; and a close relationship with Lebanese Hizbullah. It is a remarkable imaginative leap to believe that these concerns, however nettlesome, outweigh the threat of a nuclear Iran, but this calculus does appear to drive Saudi, Emirati and Israeli policy.

The locus of the Iranian challenge is an area in southern Syria where the borders of Jordan, Iraq and Syria meet. Two towns constitute the flashpoint, al-Tanaf and al bu Kamal, straddling the Baghdad–Damascus highway. This trade route has been closed for a long time. Whether it will reopen under US control or under the Assad regime is uncertain. American forces are increasing there, rather than in the areas where the Islamic State is strongest. New powerful artillery systems have been deployed. And the US has been firing on Iranian-led pro-Assad militias extending their tentacles toward al-Tanaf and al bu Kamal. 

A long-term US presence, in a bleak desert surrounded by hostile tribes, for the purpose of blocking Iran’s quest for a land corridor is now being contemplated. For the administration, this is where rollback begins. But as in the Cold War, someone needs to be asking where it ends.

A version of this post will appear as the Closing Argument in the August–September issue of Survival.

Could a ‘double freeze’ be viable path to peace on Korean Peninsula?

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, IISS–Americas

North Korea’s 4 July launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) strengthens the imperative for major nations to coalesce on a strategy to forestall further destabilising missile and nuclear tests. The stakes call for irresistible pressure combined with a diplomatic gambit should leader Kim Jong-un choose a peaceful path. The least of the bad options may be a variation on China’s proposal, backed by Russia, that the United States and the Republic of Korea suspend joint military exercises in exchange for North Korean suspension of nuclear and missile tests.

The US has good reasons to dislike the proposal. Suspending exercises would undermine Washington’s policy of exerting maximum pressure without producing any permanent benefit. I will get to other downsides shortly. Yet it is worth first considering the upsides.

The benefit of a freeze is that without flight testing, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea cannot develop a missile that is reliably capable of hitting major US cities with nuclear weapons. A moratorium on long-range missile tests would also lower tensions and, by removing the incentive for a preventive US attack, preserve peace. 

Most observers believe that rolling back the nuclear-weapons programme is unattainable for the time being. If so, then stopping North Korea from developing better bombs and longer-range missiles is a worthy secondary goal. Former secretary of defense Bill Perry argues passionately for this approach: ‘it is my strongly held view that we don’t have it in our power today to negotiate an end to the nuclear weapons program in North Korea, but we do have it in our power, probably, to lessen the danger, and the number one objective of that would be to stop ICBM testing, stop nuclear testing.’

Talking to China about its freeze proposal will be a necessary condition for it to join in putting heavy pressure on North Korea. China has made it clear that greater cooperation over North Korea hinges on a sincere US effort to negotiate with Pyongyang. In a 28 April speech to the United Nations, for example, Foreign Minister Wang Yi noted that UN resolutions call both for carrying out sanctions and resuming Six-Party Talks.

In addition to a freeze on ICBM and nuclear tests, Perry and others would add a ban on exports by the DPRK of nuclear technology. These three moratoria would all be verifiable remotely by US national technical means. A freeze should also include long-range missile launches short of an ICBM and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment, plus the return of IAEA inspectors, measures that would not pose verification problems and which North Korea had accepted in the 2012 Leap Day Deal. Although that deal very quickly went sour when Pyongyang unilaterally decided that space launches were not included, its acceptance of the other conditions offers a precedent upon which to build. 

Downsides of a double freeze

The arguments against negotiating a freeze are not insurmountable. Critics argue that it would simply lock in North Korea’s strategic advances and give de facto recognition of a nuclear-armed status. The threat to Japan and South Korea would remain undiminished, perhaps giving the misimpression that the US cares only about protecting its own homeland from DPRK missile attacks. Halting joint exercises is out of the question because of the need for military forces to maintain operational readiness. The US also argues that the exercises are purely defensive and thus should not be traded for a halt to DPRK missile launches that are offensive and, under UN resolutions, illegal. 

Opponents of the double suspension proposal note the past cases when negotiated moratoria on missile tests were broken and point to the difficulty of verifying a freeze on fissile material production and missile development activity that should be part of a negotiated freeze. If North Korea is able to continue such work, a freeze that could be broken at any time would not create real security. Critics also worry about the precedent set if North Korea’s violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty were seen to be swept under the rug. 

Freeze first, denuclearise later?

The latter concern is among many reasons why any freeze must be tied to a denuclearisation goal. As long as North Korea rejects this basic premise, the double suspension proposal will go nowhere. An issue is whether North Korea would have to declare the denuclearisation goal before any talks ensued, as has been US policy. The answer is to begin, without conditions, talks about talks.

Aiming for a freeze, as an initial step would not cede the goal of denuclearisation. Nor would talking to North Korea confer recognition of a nuclear-armed status, implicitly or otherwise. Whatever North Korea might boast, a de facto status is only in the mind of the beholder; its negotiating partners would continue to insist on denuclearisation as the goal. 

Rather than halting joint exercises, they could be reduced in scale and length or moved, if military professionals judge that this can be done without undermining their readiness purpose or the affirmation of US deterrence commitments that they represent. Drills practicing ‘decapitation’ might be omitted, for example, as well as overflights by nuclear-capable aircraft, which are only for show. Scaling back the exercises in other ways could be tied to military confidence-building measures that might also relieve North Korea of some of the expense of conducting large-scale exercises. 

Just what the US should be willing to trade for a freeze is contentious. For most American experts, the answer is ‘not much’, given that North Korea is already obliged to stop testing under successive UN Security Council resolutions, and that a freeze is a far cry from the denuclearisation goal. DPRK demands for sanctions relief, removal of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile-defence system (portions of which were installed in South Korea earlier this year for protection against DPRK missiles) and any hint of accepting North Korea as a nuclear-armed state should all be rejected. 

It would at least be possible, however, to offer the food assistance that was unofficially tied to the Leap Day deal. The offer was for 240,000 tonnes of ‘nutritional assistance’ such as high-protein biscuits, ‘with the prospect of additional assistance based on continued need’. At an estimated cost of US$200 million–US$250m, this was a bargain.

No matter what the quid pro quo, North Korea may not be inclined to consider any limits until it has developed a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the continental US. By then, however, there would be far less value for the other side in a launch moratorium. As Lord Powell explained at a session devoted to the North Korea nuclear issue at this year’s IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, the DPRK would have greater leverage in any negotiations if the topic were broached before it is too late. 

The G-20 summit in Hamburg on 7–8 July is an opportunity for world leaders to unite in putting firm pressure on North Korea. To achieve anything meaningful, however, will require some back-room deal-making on a variation of the double-freeze option.

When Donald met Vladimir

US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands

By Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs; Editor of Survival

Today’s meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin was unlike any such encounter in the history of US–Russian relations. The reason is simple: Putin was finally able to shake the hand of the man whom he actively helped to become president.

To write that he ‘actively helped’ install Trump in the White House is not to say that this support was decisive. Nor is it necessarily the most significant aspect in the currently fraught relations between Russia and transatlantic allies. Yet deciding what is important is precisely what is so fiendishly difficult in the disordered political universe of an American president who is evidently intent on subverting the concepts of reality and truth.

That Russian agents, at Putin’s behest, actively worked for Trump’s election was the judgement, of course, of the US intelligence community. It is a judgement we have to take more or less on faith, since America’s spies are protecting their sources. But it is not really much of a leap of faith, given that the alternative narratives are those of Trump’s flailing assertions of alternative reality, and Putin’s own rather smug trolling. The judgement, in any event, is what famously provoked Trump on the eve of his presidency to compare US intelligence officials to Nazis.

That presidential tweet, almost forgettable in the blizzard of unhinged tweets that have followed it, attests to the success, on at least one level, of Russian meddling. If one assumes a zero-sum competition between the United States and Russia – and this is the mind-set that does seem to prevail right now in Moscow – then having a US president comparing his intelligence agencies to Nazis, demanding that his press secretary make claims about inaugural crowd sizes that anyone with eyes could see to be false, provoking the Chancellor of Germany to conclude that her country can no longer depend on the United States, and otherwise subjecting the United States to embarrassment and ridicule, does look like a Russian win.

In the more traditional realm of great-power diplomacy, the scorecard is arguably more mixed. President Trump did, at his initial stop in Warsaw, reaffirm US commitment to NATO’s Article 5, and he called on Russia to stop destabilising Ukraine. There is a vast machinery of US national-security policy that remains committed to the alliance, and the president’s obvious ambivalence about that commitment doesn’t mean it will end. At the same time, however, Trump went into his meeting with Putin without a clearly established plan or agenda. This is on the testimony of his National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, who more or less shrugged: ‘It’s whatever the president wants to talk about.’ This is somewhat unnerving: more capable presidents than Donald Trump have felt the need to prepare for meetings with their Russian counterpart.

It was also in Warsaw that the US President offered support to the authoritarian tendencies of the Polish government along with the hard-line nationalists in his own White House.  He joined the Polish prime minister in attacking the very notion of a critical, independent press. And he proclaimed that the ‘fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive’. The American journalist Peter Beinart properly labelled this the ‘most shocking sentence in Trump’s speech – perhaps the most shocking sentence in any presidential speech delivered on foreign soil in my lifetime...’ In context it was clear that Trump was talking not about the threat of terrorism, a serious problem but hardly a threat to the West’s ‘survival’. Rather, he was appealing to the fever dreams of an extremist Right, which sees an existential threat in the pollution of multicultural and multiracial immigration.

And so we have an administration formally committed to defence obligations for the transatlantic alliance, but also actively hostile – at least as far as the president is concerned – to the liberal values that should glue that alliance together. Which is more important?

Erik Jones: Italy’s Invisible Referendum Market Shock

The Italian electorate delivered a stunning blow to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his government in the referendum held on Sunday 4 December. Contrary to expectations, the result was not even close. Almost 60% of the electorate voted against the government’s constitutional-reform package with a turnout – both at home and abroad – of more than 65%. Renzi accepted responsibility for the failure of his reform package and announced his attention to hand his formal resignation to President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella on Monday 5 December.

Meanwhile, the markets most likely to be surprised by this dramatic turn of events simply shrugged the matter off. The euro lost just over one cent against the dollar in early morning trading only to return to pre-referendum levels before most Italians went to lunch. The Italian stock market recovered even faster. If there is a major shock brewing in the markets, so far it remains invisible. The question is how long, if at all, it will take to rise up to the surface.

There is good reason to believe that in Italy it will take days or weeks, and not months, for the markets to digest the consequences. The first part of the learning process will focus on the banks. Monte dei Paschi di Siena is in the middle of an important effort to raise fresh capital so that it can purge its balance sheet of roughly €27 billion in non-performing loans as required by the European Central Bank. The bank cannot sell these loans at prices offered in the markets even with a government guarantee attached. It must set aside additional loss provisions first. The only choice for the bank if it does not raise fresh capital in the markets will be to turn to the Italian government for support. For its part, the government will have to wipe out the investments made by junior bondholders according to European rules. The worry is that this will raise concerns among investors in other Italian financial institutions. Where Monte dei Paschi di Siena leads, others may have to follow.

How the Italian government is handled by its European partners will also be important. Italy is still in the process of finalising its fiscal accounts as part of the European procedures for macroeconomic policy coordination. The European Commission has shown some flexibility with Renzi and his team in light of the many challenges the government has faced in terms of immigration, earthquakes and the like. Nevertheless, there is still work to be done in showing that the Italian government can lower its ‘structural balance’ and so pay down its outstanding public debt. Eurogroup President and Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem has underscored that this is important. Renzi pushed back to say that his government had already done enough. Hence the question is whether whatever government follows Renzi will be treated more gently in light of the circumstances or whether it will be pushed harder to live within European fiscal norms. If there is a conflict between the Eurogroup and Italy’s new administration, market participants will have to wonder whether this subtracts from stability in the country as a whole.

This is where the third lesson will become important – and that concerns the limits of central-bank intervention. Mario Draghi made it known last week that he will use the European Central Bank’s large scale asset-purchasing program to stabilise Italian sovereign-debt markets should that become necessary after the referendum. Market participants immediately took him at his word, and the price of Italian government bonds rose as a result immediately prior to the referendum vote. The question is how much the ECB can buy and how long it can continue to privilege Italian sovereign-debt markets. The answer to both parts of that question depend upon whether the Italian government is willing to go into a European programme related either to the recapitalisation of its banks or to some kind of precautionary stabilisation of sovereign-debt markets. If the new government accepts a European programme, the ECB will be able to put more resources behind stabilising the markets. If it does not – and there are strong political reasons why it will be reluctant – then any additional purchases the ECB makes now will have to be compensated by lower purchases at some point in the future.

Immediate ECB intervention may be a boon for the short term. Governments tend to organise the calendar for refinancing debts so that they have little to do when the markets are quiet during the holiday period. By February, however, the situation will be different insofar as the Italian government will have a sudden increase in debts that will need to be refinanced – just under €50 billion in total. Much of this would normally be purchased by Italian banks. That could be more difficult if the banks are in serious trouble. If the government has to lower the price of this debt to attract international investors, that could start to raise problems with its budget forecasts for Europe. And if the ECB appears powerless to help Italy until Italy agrees to go into a programme, then international market participants may choose to sit things out until they see where the government is headed.

None of this is to say that disaster is imminent. Indeed, looking at the markets, the opposite seems to be the case. Italians have long expected the referendum to go against Renzi and they have also discounted the consequences. People are surprised by the scale of the No victory but not by the fact itself. If Italy faces a complicated policy agenda, it has done so in the past as well. This time need not be different. But it is worth knowing just how much market participants will have to digest for this to turn out well. Italy’s invisible referendum market shock may never surface. Only time will tell – and relatively quickly at that.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is a Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, and a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. He can be followed on Twitter at @Erik_Jones_SAIS. Read more on Erik Jones’s personal blog.

Regime change for Iran?

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of IISS-Americas, and Samantha Hay, IISS-Americas intern

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump maintained that the Iraq war was a mistake and that attempts at regime change in the Middle East were dangerous and wasteful. As president-elect, he appears to have largely stuck to that line. Many of his selections for top national-security posts may have a different view, however – and particularly when it comes to Iran.

The Iranian regime has long been a thorn in the side of Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, retired general James Mattis. His longstanding antagonism towards the Islamic Republic is believed to have been the impetus behind his removal as head of US Central Command. In April 2016, Mattis referred to the Iranian regime as ‘the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East’ and a ‘revolutionary cause devoted to mayhem’.

Mattis has stopped short of outright regime-change advocacy. But Mike Flynn, Trump’s selection for national security advisor (and another retired general), has gone further. He has been explicit in his condemnation of the Iranian regime, has advocated for the American overthrow of regimes that are ‘Islamic Republics’, and in 2015 testified before Congress that ‘regime change in Tehran is the best way to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program’.

Representative Mike Pompeo, chosen to head the CIA, is known for his harsh rejection of the Iran nuclear deal, and once called upon Congress to ‘change Iranian behavior, and ultimately, the Iranian regime’. A day before his appointment was announced, Pompeo took to Twitter to say ‘I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.’

One exception to this attitude is Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick for secretary of state. In an interview last March, he said Exxon might in the future seek to conduct business in Iran. Tillerson won out over three prominent Trump advisers from the regime-change camp: Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and John Bolton. Yet they likely will remain influential. Bolton had been in the running for number two at the State Department. Arguably the most hawkish of all, he has been a long-time advocate for regime change in Iran, referring to it as the ‘only long-term solution’ to the threats posed by the country, and once said ‘the ayatollahs are the principal threat to international peace and security in the Middle East’.

Circling in Trump’s orbit are others who have embraced a controversial partner in the case for regime change: the People’s Mujahedin Organization (MEK), an exiled Iranian opposition group that, until 2012, was designated as a terrorist organisation by the United States. Elaine Chao (Trump’s pick for transportation secretary), Giuliani and Gingrich have all spoken at the MEK’s annual ‘Free Iran’ rallies. Within the MEK, they contend, there exists a viable alternative to the leadership in Tehran. At the 2014 rally, for example, Giuliani asserted that regime change in Iran would be ‘easy’, with the MEK on hand to step in. In a similar vein, Bolton has called for US support for Iranian opposition groups as a way of conducting regime change without the use of American military force.

There is good reason – in theory – to want a different regime in Tehran. Anti-Americanism was a founding principle of the 1979 revolution, and the anniversary of the 4 November 1979 embassy takeover is marked each year with public celebrations. Iran shows its animosity in the jailing of dual US-Iranian citizens and such actions as last January’s humiliating capture of US seamen. Although Iran is in compliance with the nuclear accord, whatever trust with the US that deal built after 35 years of hostility has done little to soften Tehran’s belligerency elsewhere. And while Iran’s misbehaviour is often exaggerated, its support for Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Assad regime in Syria, its missile tests and its sustained menace toward Israel are all unpalatable.

Yet, after Iraq, it is difficult to support the idea that regime change can ever be ‘easy’. Moreover, the cult-like MEK is generally reviled in Iran because of its explicit support for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. And any group that the US publicly backed as an alternative to the Islamic Republic would be seen as an American puppet. In any case, the Iranian people are not inclined to try to topple the regime. Seeing how the Arab Spring played out in Libya and Syria has made them far more disposed to work within the system. An American policy of regime change would also vindicate those in Iran who argued against accepting any limits on the nuclear programme, and could well spur nuclear weapons development.

One of the current authors has called for unification of the Korean Peninsula under Seoul’s auspices as the only ‘happy ending’ to the tortured saga of North Korea. All other policies have failed, and the Kim Jong-un regime has made clear it will never willingly barter away its nuclear weapons. In the Iran case, by contrast, diplomacy has been shown to work. The most worrisome aspect of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its nuclear programme, has been bottled up – for now at least. Similar diplomatic approaches should be pursued to address Iran’s missile-development programme and other concerns. Let us hope that Tillerson’s business-like style – whether or not he is confirmed– wins out. 

Mark Fitzpatrick: On Trump and North Korea

After presidential elections, a habitual Washington parlour game calls for assessing the incoming administration’s policies before they have been announced and before the key players have even been appointed. Herewith, then, are my views about President-elect Donald Trump’s options in dealing with North Korea.

Given the accelerated pace and punch of its strategic weapons programmes – including over two-dozen missile tests and two nuclear tests so far this year – North Korea would have been a top foreign policy priority for whoever had won on 8 November. Its current trajectory would, if left unimpeded, likely give the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) the capability to strike the US homeland with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) before Trump’s four-year term is up. Preventing this development is not necessarily a strategic redline. The danger is already clear and present in that North Korea today can hit US allies and bases in northeast Asia with nuclear-armed Nodong missiles.

The danger to the continental US is less imminent because national missile defences could, with high probability, knock out the small salvo of ICBMs that might be available for North Korea to fire this decade. But there is a political imperative for the homeland not to be vulnerable to a North Korean nuclear attack at all. And in later years, the larger number of missiles that the DPRK might have and the measures they could develop to overcome missile defences will make it imperative to stop the programme. Far better now than later.

It is wrong to conclude that, because the current sanctions-based US policy has failed to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests, penalties cannot work. Only within the past half year have US sanctions reached the level of extraterritorial reach that proved so effective in hampering Iran’s economy. In that case, it took a year and a half before the biting sanctions that were applied in early 2012, including Europe’s severing of oil sales and access to the SWIFT financial-messaging system, helped to compel Iran to engage in negotiations in earnest. Given North Korea’s lesser dependency on international markets, it will take longer for sanctions to affect DPRK decision-making. In the meantime, the pressure will likely be amplified in ways that go well beyond economic measures – think maritime interdictions, aggressive psychological operations and even cyber warfare.

The Iran case also demonstrated that sanctions must be coupled with an engagement strategy and a willingness to compromise. Tehran did not accept roll-back of its enrichment programme until Barack Obama’s administration agreed that the programme itself could continue to exist. Trump’s inclinations are unclear. On one hand, in June 2016 he called for dialogue with North Korea and suggested he could talk with Kim Jong-un over a hamburger. The ‘Nixon to China’ comparison is over-used, but a Republican president would find it easier than the Democrat Obama to collar congressional support for such an outreach.

On the other hand, Trump’s foreign-policy advisers are hardliners disinclined toward compromise with enemies. His nominee for National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, for example, has called for an end to the North Korean regime. It is hard to imagine the Trump administration compromising on North Korea’s demand for recognition of its nuclear-armed status. More possible would be the negotiation of a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, if South Korea were party to the talks and it did not require an end to the alliance. It would also have to be done in a way that preserved the goal of denuclearising the North.

Any discourse on the subject must acknowledge that China’s role will be crucial. As in the case of the UN sanctions applied against Iran, sanctions against North Korea will be most effective if they are universally applied. But China likes the loopholes that have allowed North Korea to continue to export coal and other minerals despite the ostensibly tough sanctions measures applied by the UN Security Council after the DPRK’s fourth nuclear test in January. At the time of writing, since the fifth nuclear test on 9 September, 76 days have passed without any further Security Council action. The delay is proof of China’s enduring commitment to protect its wayward ally. Beijing’s priority is to preserve North Korea as a buffer state and to prevent a collapse that would induce a flood of refugees across the Yalu River.

For Beijing to change its position would require an off-setting strategic gain elsewhere. Would deal-maker Trump be willing to strike a bargain with President Xi Jinping over North Korea? Beijing has at least four strategic demands. It wants an end to US arms sales to Taiwan, accommodation of its maritime claims in the South China Sea, recognition of its claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and an end to plans to deploy THAAD missile defences in South Korea. The first three are non-starters, although some permutations involving shared access might be explored. Ending the THAAD deployment would be possible if Chinese pressure could actually bring about removal of the North Korean missile threat against which the system is intended to defend. But the chances of Chinese pressure actually working in this matter in a timely fashion are slim, and China would want more than THAAD as a quid pro quo.

Beijing may calculate that, if it simply waits, strategic gains could fall into its lap. In contrast to his rapidly changing positions on many other issues, one constant in Trump’s worldview has been the belief that US forces abroad are overstretched and that allies should bear a greater portion of the burden of collective defence. He may not realise that Japan already pays 75% of the cost of the US force presence there, and South Korea around 50%. Trump’s own calculations are different because he appears to include in the denominator the total cost of equipping the US military. Requiring the shouldering of that cost would make US forces akin to mercenaries. If Trump were to try to use the 28,500 American forces stationed in South Korea as leverage for strong-arming their hosts, China would emerge the winner.

Among the worst ideas for countering North Korea is to fight fire with fire by arming its adversaries with nuclear weapons. In three interviews last spring, candidate Trump suggested it might be better if US allies such as Japan and South Korea acquired nuclear weapons to defend themselves. Trump abandoned this position after hearing advice from senior Republican legislators, and he later insisted that he had never encouraged US allies to acquire nuclear weapons. There is no doubting what he said, it is a matter of public record. But when Trump vigorously denies having said something, it means that whatever words came out of his mouth did not reflect his true beliefs. Suggesting that allies should acquire nuclear weapons was simply a bargaining tactic and campaign throw-away line. Saying so was not inconsequential; it undermined the credibility of US extended deterrence. As president, however, it seems clear to me he will not encourage proliferation.

Nor will Trump want to reposition US tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea, as called for by some South Korean politicians and columnists. US military commanders and defence officials understand how counter-productive that would be, in terms of the extra costs of guarding the weapons, the political divisions they would engender in South Korea and the danger of exposing the weapons to a pre-emptive North Korean strike. Plus, reintroducing the tactical nuclear weapons that were withdrawn in 1991would add no strategic benefit, given the array of nuclear and conventional forces already available to counter any North Korean attack.

Trump will need to consider, however, what additional means might be useful both to deter the North and reassure the South. Rotational deployments in South Korea of nuclear-capable bombers might be in the offing, but probably not their permanent stationing, since nuclear payloads would remain on American soil. South Korea might be offered more non-nuclear strike capabilities of its own. It might also be given a freer hand to respond aggressively to the next North Korean provocation. To date, the norm has been for the United States to restrain South Korea in its retaliatory impulses.

We will also hear more talk of pre-emptive strikes. Over the past year, such discourse has become common in the US national-security community. Key advisers to both presidential candidates said that ‘all options are on the table’ regarding North Korea. While they did not necessarily mean it as a euphemism for pre-emptive military action, Trump may well say it like he means it. Such strikes would not be carried out, however, without consultation with the allies who would be affected and unless there was solid intelligence indicating an impending North Korean attack. Any such pre-emptive option would be by conventional means, such as Tomahawk missile strikes on the DPRK launch pad in question. Nuclear pre-emption need not be on the table. For the circumstances at hand, it would be neither credible, necessary nor moral.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS-Americas. This commentary is drawn from his remarks at a 17 November dinner salon hosted by the National Committee on North Korea.

William Choong: Trump’s Asia Policy - Riven with Contradictions

For years after the end of the Cold War, the United States was the hegemon in the Asia-Pacific, its presence in the region undergirded by a triptych of US support for regional security, a dense web of trade and economic ties, and Washington’s support for principles such as democracy and human rights.

The election of Donald Trump last week has led the region into uncharted territory. On the campaign trail, Trump promised to rip up the Trans-Pacific Partnership and slap punitive tariffs on China. He threatened to pull American troops out of South Korea and Japan and suggested that the two countries would be better off armed with nuclear weapons.

If Trump’s campaign rhetoric turns into reality, it would be the end of the US-led regional order in the Asia-Pacific as we know it. But it is impossible to know whether he will stick to his most radical and, at times, contradictory campaign promises.

After his election, in a phone call to South Korean president Park Geun-hye, Trump did reaffirm Washington’s commitment to South Korea’s defence. Likewise, he agreed with Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull about the importance of the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific.

While Trump’s policies on Asia are still being developed, what we can discern from his comments on the stump are three broad themes: ‘America First’, which means bringing back jobs and growth from overseas to middle America; an allergy to free-trade agreements; and an inclination to get US military allies to pay more for their defence.

To many Asian countries which depend heavily on the openness of the US economy, American First amounts to a reversal of Barack Obama’s ‘pivot’ or ‘rebalance’ back to the Asia-Pacific. Under Obama, the argument was that the rebalance was not merely a military one, but a strategic and economic one. In Obama’s rendering, America’s fate is inextricably tied to that of Asian-Pacific countries. Hence, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was evidence of America’s commitment to that dynamic region.

If Trump kills the TPP, this would knock out a key pillar of America’s presence in the Asia-Pacific. And one can only rue Trump's disdain for regional and multilateral institutions such as ASEAN, the ASEAN-driven East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus and APEC.

In a best-case - and possibly wishful - scenario, Trump’s bid to get US allies to pay more for their defence stems from his inclination to get the best deal from any agreement. We can hope that there is more bark than bite in his threats to withdraw American troops from the region.

Getting Seoul and Tokyo to pay more for their defence is a long shot, however. Japan and South Korea bear 48% and 40%, respectively, of the cost of stationing US personnel in their countries. According to the IISS publication Military Balance, Seoul spent 2.4% of its GDP on defence in 2015 - more than NATO countries such as Germany (1.09%), Italy (1.18%) and Holland (1.19%).

It is estimated that the US spends $10 billion annually on its bases in Japan and South Korea. Even if Trump can somehow get the two allies to bear all of this cost, it would still be a small fraction of the United States’ $600bn annual defence budget.

The biggest question, however, is how Trump would deal with China.

He has labelled China a currency manipulator, and promised to slap a 45% tariff on the country. In a recent paper for Foreign Policy, Trump advisers Alexander Gray and Peter Navarro said that Obama’s ‘feckless’ and ‘mendacious’ pivot had led to Chinese aggression and left America’s allies and partners in the region disheartened. They called for the rebuilding of the US Navy (which they described as the ‘greatest source of regional stability’ in Asia) and the repeal of sequestration budget caps on US military spending.

Such a policy would arguably put the US on a collision course with China.

Conversely, Trump’s lack of a fixed ideology could produce a situation in which the US arrives at a deal with China on sharing power. Writing in the South China Morning Post, former CIA director and Trump adviser James Woolsey wrote that a ‘grand bargain’ could emerge, whereby the US accepts China’s political and social structure, in exchange for Beijing not challenging the status quo in the region.

A grand bargain might appeal to Trump’s transactional instincts. Nearly a decade ago, a Chinese admiral told US admiral Timothy Keating that the two countries could make a deal: if the US kept its carriers east of Hawaii, the Chinese would keep theirs west of the island. Both sides would share information, and the US would be spared the effort of hauling its carriers all the way to the Western Pacific.

Notwithstanding Trump’s isolationist instincts, such a radical American withdrawal is unlikely. But the US could agree to back off from its freedom-of-navigation patrols in the South China Sea, in return for China agreeing to stop the militarisation of the features it currently occupies in the Spratlys. The US could even start talks with North Korea (as Trump suggested in May), in exchange for China reducing aid to the regime.

If a grand bargain surfaces, the Asia-Pacific would be rocked to the core. In recent months, China has worked hard to pull US allies and partners away from the American orbit. Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has announced the ‘separation’ of Manila from the US and was rewarded with billions of dollars’ worth of trade and aid from China. Similarly, Thailand and Malaysia have gravitated towards China, thanks to promises of more Chinese investment, trade and assistance in building key infrastructure.

It is too early to say that Trump would cede the field to China. But as it is, his policy towards Asia is shot through with contradictions, and many questions remain. For example, how would America First square with a bid to re-assert American dominance in the Asia-Pacific? How would dropping the TPP gel with what Trump sees to be the importance of the US presence in the region? And how could a potential clash with China help to sustain the US-led liberal order?

F. Scott Fitzgerald said that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in one’s mind and yet retain the ability to function. For many policymakers in the Asia-Pacific, the earnest hope is that Trump’s contradiction-rife policies will ultimately prove functional.

William Choong is Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security.

From the upcoming Survival: President Trump

Download a PDF version of the full article

This journal goes to press three days after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States (and most of its articles were finalised before we knew the result). Mail-in ballots on the West Coast, and provisional ballots throughout the country, are still being counted. It looks certain, however, that Hillary Clinton, not Trump, will win the popular vote by a margin of between one and two percentage points, or somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million votes. So this is the fifth time in American history that the winner of the popular vote has lost the electoral college and therefore the presidency. And it is the second time it has happened in the past five presidential elections. By historical standards, the popular-vote margin was not even especially close: Clinton’s winning margin is on the order of four times larger than Al Gore’s, and Gore won the national vote by a larger margin than Richard Nixon’s over Hubert Humphrey in 1968, or John Kennedy’s over Richard Nixon in 1960.

Beyond any solace of moral vindication that Democrats might cling to, the mismatch between votes and victory is significant because it is tied to the structural reason that Trump won and Clinton lost, offering at least a partial insight into the motivations of Trump’s voters. A complete analysis is not yet available, but Trump won over rural, small-town and working class white voters without a college education, in comparison to Clinton’s more racially mixed and more highly educated urban voters. Or, as others have put it, the losers versus the winners of globalisation.

The designations are relative and somewhat subjective. The plight of American blacks has been bad for centuries, but has gotten steadily better since the 1960s. They credit the Democratic Party for their improvement, and remember that Barry Goldwater’s opposition to the civil rights act of 1964 morphed into a Southern Strategy. Hispanics’ progress has been geographic – their parents or grandparents came to the US for a better life and, though that life remains tough, it is better than what they left behind and they know it. Other minorities – Asians, Jews – are economically natural Republicans, but they smell prejudice and racial fear-mongering, and have the muscle memory to know that the scapegoating of one minority usually ends badly for others. And they, too, are winners of globalisation.

For congressional races, Clinton’s voters are naturally gerrymandered – they are packed more tightly together in urban districts where the preponderance of Democratic votes is wasted. There was also, obviously, a mal-distribution of Democratic voters in the presidential electoral college. Certainly, many Hispanic votes are likewise wasted because of their concentration in California, safely Democratic, and Texas, for now safely Republican.

The difference from Trump voters was therefore at once ethnic, cultural and geographic. Rural, working class and less educated whites are objectively losing out, and certainly feel themselves losers of an economic transformation which benefits vibrant cities to which they cannot move, and which they may associate with changes in the very complexion of American society.

Trump’s campaign appeal was overtly racist, which is not quite the same thing as saying that the anger and motivation of his voters was predominantly racist. It might better be called white-ethnic anxiety, and has to be understood in the context of communities that really feel they are slipping – a slippage that was hinted at in research published more than a year ago that indicated an astonishing rise in white, middle-class mortality, a phenomenon utterly at odds with any comparable wealthy society and more reminiscent of post-Soviet Russia.

The racial subtext of American politics is enduring and difficult. One of its most powerful documents was the speech that Barack Obama gave just over eight years ago when his candidacy was threatened by a racial firestorm ignited by the sermons of the black preacher at the Chicago church that Obama and his family had attended. Obama spoke of the trials and tribulations of American blacks since slavery, but he also expressed a profound empathy for whites such as his grandmother – ‘a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.’ And then he said this:

Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one handed them anything. They built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pensions dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and they feel their dreams slipping away. And in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Genuine empathy for this resentment has a logical corollary that the conservative party in a two-party system is likely to be racially conservative as well, and the natural home for resentful whites. It follows that the strategic decision to embrace the disaffection of southern whites after the civil rights revolution of the 1960s was not fundamentally culpable. It put Republicans on the wrong side of history – yet, in a two-party system, it could be argued that someone had to be there. Richard Nixon may have done his country a service in siphoning votes from the overtly racist George Wallace without embracing Wallace’s overt racism.

But now Donald Trump has used Wallace language rather than Nixon language, and he has won the presidency. Here the Republican Party is culpable. The ground was laid for Trump in the exploitation of Tea Party rage that was so clearly directed against America’s first black president, in the pursuit of a policy of blanket obstruction throughout his presidency, going so far as to use the credit-worthiness of the United States as a means of extortion for political ends, and in the refusal to repudiate the odious birtherism – a feverish conspiracy theory that the black man in the White House could not be a legitimate president because he was not a real American. Where was the birth certificate? (Ironically, whereas Obama was irrefutably born in the American state of Hawaii, his opponent in the 2008 campaign was in fact born in the Panama Canal Zone.) The most prominent and energetic birther was one Donald Trump.

Many Republican leaders did recoil when it became apparent that Trump would win their party’s nomination for president. Some refused to support him and have maintained that refusal. Most, however, rallied around. And their decision has paid off, for they are about to take control of all three branches of the federal government.


This is another important reason that Trump won. In a polarised country, the decision of the party institutions and its elected officials to back him made it acceptable for many Republican voters who had their doubts, but were driven by animus against the Democrats, to follow suit. Trump was normalised by this Republican support. When some piece of outrageous rhetoric or behaviour drove some of his voters away, the institutional backing of the party allowed them to come back in good conscience.

As did their animus towards Hillary Clinton. A large mystery of this campaign was how a woman whom polling showed to be extremely popular when she finished her service as secretary of state just four years ago could have become such an object of distrust and even hatred.

The post-factual generation of that enmity is at least part of the explanation for how the American system could install a manifestly authoritarian and illiberal candidate into the presidency of the United States. The narrative towards the end had been at least mildly reassuring. Trump’s unfitness extended to the conduct of an even minimally competent campaign. He wasted irreplaceable campaign weeks on such erratic behaviour as attacking, via Twitter, the Muslim parents of a martyred American soldier, smearing a pageant winner who had gained a little weight after he took ownership of the Miss Universe Contest, and threatening to sue more than a dozen women who stepped forward to confirm that he had in fact assaulted them in the manner a 2005 video recording had captured him bragging about. Meanwhile, to fill out a policy platform that included various war crimes, mass deportations, extorting Mexico to finance a great border wall and banning Muslims from the United States, he vowed, dictator-like, to jail Hillary Clinton upon assuming office, and said he would keep America ’in suspense’ about whether he might accept an election defeat. With more generally bizarre behaviour in the three national debates, these statements appeared to destroy his candidacy. Two weeks before the election, polling averages gave Hillary Clinton a lead of more than five percentage points. The system seemed to be working.

And then it didn’t. Part of the normalisation of Trump was the absurd equation of Hillary Clinton’s careless email practices with deep corruption and even criminality. The conventions of media coverage were hard to surmount: if reporters covering the Trump campaign were going to press Donald Trump on the countless bizarre and dangerous statements emitting from his lungs, then the different set of reporters covering the Clinton campaign would have to pursue her about something. Her use of a private email server while secretary of state was the best they could come up with. A small portion of the emails passing through it contained classified information, though the level of secrecy in these was in fact trivial. The system was set up for admittedly frivolous reasons of convenience. But there was zero evidence that she used it to hide anything untoward. That was the conclusion of the FBI Director James Comey who, after his bureau investigated, declared in July that ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ would bring charges based on such evidence. He also said she had been careless with classified communications. The Trump campaign and Republican leaders in Congress expressed fury that the director was letting Clinton off the hook, and it turns out that many FBI agents were angry too, so when a separate investigation (into the bizarre and lurid sexting habits of former congressman Anthony Weiner, who happened to be married to Clinton’s trusted aide Huma Abedin) turned up a computer that seemed to contain more Clinton emails, Comey sent a letter informing Congress that these would be examined as well. This ;was 11 days before the election. Comey’s letter violated decades-old Justice Department guidelines to avoid any statements on ongoing investigations that might affect the outcome of an impending election. If he felt compelled to inform Congress before his anti-Clinton and pro-Trump agents leaked the information, this says a lot about the FBI’s own discipline and carefulness with secrets. In any event, Comey at the time had no idea what new evidence the unexamined computer contained – and the answer turned out to be none. This episode came in the context of a steady drip of Wikileaks’s release of other emails hacked from Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign computers, according to US intelligence agencies, by groups associated with the Russian state, with the aim of interfering in the American election. These leaks revealed that the emailers in question talked and behaved like normal human beings, which is to say that they wrote things that they might not want to see published. Such was the post-factual environment in which Trump’s repeated claims that Hillary Clinton was the most corrupt and criminal candidate in American history, and belonged behind bars, could be taken seriously by many of his supporters.


Earlier this year, the American journalist Anne Applebaum wrote that ‘right now, we are two or three bad elections away from the end of NATO, the end of the European Union and maybe the end of the liberal world order as we know it’. The elections she had in mind were a British vote to leave the EU, the election of Trump as president of the United States, and the election of Marine Le Pen as president of France. Only the third has not yet happened; France votes next year.

In the American case, we now step onto terra incognita – we have not had a genuinely illiberal president in any living person’s memory. Certainly since the Second World War, Democrats and Republicans have conformed to a basic liberal consensus. George W. Bush, notwithstanding his administration’s unilateral impulses, was a liberal internationalist – arguably to a fault. Richard Nixon, though privately an anti-Semite and beset by other personal demons, pursued domestic and international policies well within the mainstream of American politics.

On the eve of Trump’s election, Francis Fukuyama, in conversation with Vox editor Ezra Klein, sounded very worried:

We went through a period like this in the 1930s after the Great Depression where you had a lot of economic distress and a lot of radical policies being pursued, and Germany and Italy went off in this authoritarian direction and the United States chose Franklin Roosevelt – a radical in the context of American politics, but [he] stayed well within the political frame. I think people thought that just reflected a very different kind of American political culture that is deeply democratic and liberal. I think this election year has suggested that maybe we were just lucky back then and there was nothing deeply constraining that kind of move other than just good leadership.

What kind of leadership should we expect from President Trump? There is not much to go on except what he said in the campaign that he would do as president: reverse President Obama’s climate-change regulations, because climate change is a Chinese hoax designed to ruin the US economy; deport 11 million undocumented immigrants (‘humanely’, he has said, but this is a definition of humane that includes breaking up thousands of families); build a great wall with Mexico and extort the Mexican government into paying for it by threatening to cut off remittances and applying other economic pressures; reinstitute torture for terrorist suspects and make it worse than waterboarding because, even if it doesn’t work in terms of intelligence gathering, they deserve it; kill terrorist family members because that is the only effective deterrence against terrorists who are willing to sacrifice their own lives; ban Muslims from entering the United States; if intervening in places like Syria or Iraq against the Islamic State, do it in a smart way for American interests which means, at the very least, seizing the countries’ oil; tear up the nuclear agreement with Iran; take a more transactional approach to the American alliance system, which means, for example, if the Baltic states cannot pay adequately for American defence, then, ‘congratulations, you will be defending yourself’; impose 35% and 45% tariffs on Mexican and Chinese imports; sue the women who have come forward to accuse him of sexual assault; and instruct the anti-trust division of the Justice Department to go after Amazon’s Jeff Bezo, the owner of the Washington Post, because Trump was unhappy with the Post’s coverage of his campaign.

Against this dire programme, there are two thin hopes. First, maybe it was all a kind of grievance theatre for his much-aggrieved followers, and one that we do not need to take seriously as a plan for governing, not least because much of it is logically impossible. Second, President Trump will operate within the institutional checks and balances of the American constitutional system, which will act to restrain excesses.

The first hope requires us to ignore everything we saw and heard over the past 16 months – but who knows? On the second hope, some of the agenda, obviously, constitutes war crimes. The former head of the CIA and various retired generals have stated that America’s spies and soldiers will refuse to carry out such orders. Trump’s first response was: if I order it, they will do it. Then he backed off a little. So maybe that is a fight he would not seek. In more general terms, Congress is in Republican hands. There are elements of this agenda – the trade wars and the abandonment of NATO – that are at odds with Republican consensus. Other elements – the mass deportation of undocumented Hispanics – are at odds with Republicans’ long-term political interest in not permanently alienating the fastest-growing segment of the American population. So Congress could fight him on these issues, although it is not clear why we would expect their calculation of interest and ideology to be any different now that he has won than it was when he was a candidate.

Those campaign promises that fit with the Republican agenda are very likely to be implemented. These include an abrogation of any action against climate change; appointments of conservatives to the Supreme Court; and very significant, regressive tax cuts, which will require draconian cuts to discretionary domestic spending. With countervailing increases in defence spending, these fiscal policies will almost certainly bring a return of massive structural federal-budget deficits. We can also expect in many Republican-controlled states a further restriction of voting rights, under the guise of combatting practically non-existent ‘voter fraud’. These will include measures such as requiring certain forms of photo identification that may sound innocuous but are actually more expensive to acquire in real terms than the notorious poll taxes of the segregated South.

‘Leadership’ is an oft-used and somewhat vacuous mantra, but we are about to understand its more precise meaning by virtue of its absence from the liberal West. As Applebaum perceived, the disintegration of that community predated Trump’s ascent. Institutions such as the EU and NATO may survive, but they are likely to be robbed of credibility and solidarity. Britain’s strong, if prickly, position as a leader of the European Union is finished; it will now spend many years in collective contemplation of its navel, a dispiriting but unavoidable exercise of figuring out the values and technicalities of its new place in Europe and the world. The political dynamic that caused Brexit is the same as that which carried Trump. Certainly, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen all welcomed Brexit because they are positively hostile to the EU. President-elect Trump has expressed similar hostility towards NATO.

Maybe there is enough memory of liberal purpose and recognition of stark interest in individual middle-ranked powers to bridge, selectively, part of the abyss. At the beginning of this century the French parties of left and right cooperated to deny Marine Le Pen’s father the presidency; this required socialists to stifle their distaste for Jacques Chirac. They could do it again. Britain will leave the EU, but a High Court decision has required a greater role for Parliament in setting the terms; since most MPs were against Brexit, perhaps this majority will find a programme for privileging common European hopes over tabloid exploitation of baser fears and resentments in negotiating their departure. Germany will not abandon its destructive anti-Keynesian orthodoxy, but maybe in this era of prolonged crisis German leaders can accept that the harsher forms of austerity are corrosive to what is left of broader European solidarity. The community of Western values will not be enlarged in the foreseeable future; indeed, ‘enlargement’ projects were part of the overreach that led to the current crisis. But NATO has the conventional and nuclear means to defend its members, including Baltic states, and even if the leader of its leading power might be indifferent, treaty obligations mean something.

The military defence of NATO members is easier than restoring their solidarity, and both are lesser challenges compared to two truly existential threats. The first of these is a social, technological and moral threat to capitalist democracy. Brexit and Trump rode the currents of resentment against globalisation; yet globalisation may be only a smaller part of technological transformation that will increase the already huge disparities as autonomy and artificial intelligence devastate the viability of a jobs-based distribution of income. Maybe this nightmare scenario springs from a Luddite failure of imagination about the jobs of the future. But maybe not. As we stand on the cusp of a revolution in driverless automobiles, to take one example, we might consider how many people earn their living as drivers.

The second threat is environmental: catastrophic climate change. Technology in clean energy has advanced more quickly than we could have hoped for a few years ago, and that advancement allowed the presidents of the United States and of the People’s Republic of China to reach a bilateral agreement that was the basis for a truly meaningful Paris agreement. The global-governance challenge, as my colleague Jeffrey Mazo has long argued, was always going to be at least as difficult as the one faced by the founders of the Bretton Woods institutions at the end of the Second World War. In fact, it is more difficult, because Bretton Woods was among allies, where as China and the US – the world’s leading carbon polluters – are developing a relationship of rivalry, if not enmity.

Bretton Woods required American leadership, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that, at least on this threat, such leadership will be absent for the next four years. And four years is a fairly large share of the time that is left to humanity to bend the curve of global emissions downward, before truly catastrophic temperature increases become irreversible. European states, for all their troubles, are not governed by political parties that deny the science of climate change. Perhaps they remain wilful and coherent enough to seek accommodation with China, and other big developing states such as India, to bridge the time until America comes to its senses. There could be geopolitical peril in such accommodation. Yet, if they could pull it off, the Europeans would have performed a worthy historical service and repayment of genuine debt for America’s past sacrifices: the old world stepping forth to the rescue of the new.

Download a PDF version of the full article

Dana Allin is Editor of Survival, and IISS Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs.

Mark Fitzpatrick and Paulina Izewicz: Whither the JCPOA under Trump?

Among the many foreign-policy questions raised by Donald Trump’s unexpected election is whether the Iran nuclear accord’s days are now numbered. In the immediate aftermath, and with his campaign rhetoric in mind, many proclaimed President Barack Obama’s signature achievement to be dead in the water. Not immediately, is our take, but for it to survive a four-year Trump term will take a lot of luck.

Trump is unlikely to tear up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on day one of his presidency, as some of his earlier rivals for Republican nomination claimed they would do. Doing so would create a crisis with the European allies who were also party to the deal, and who like it just fine. And however much one may dislike the conditions Obama agreed to, the deal is working well in limiting Iran’s nuclear capability. There is no crisis that needs immediate attention.

During his campaign, Trump repeatedly made unfavourable, but often contradictory, comments about the agreement. At various times, he called it the worst deal ever made; accepted it as fait accompli and vowed to strictly ‘police’ it instead; and said he would renegotiate it early in his presidency. He also expressed concern that US companies were now the only ones restricted from doing business with Iran while everyone else was allowed to enter the market. Indeed, many of Trump’s campaign statements with respect to foreign-policy issues have been similarly vague and inconsistent, making it very difficult to predict what his approach ultimately will be. Given his lack of foreign-policy experience, the key is likely to be in his cabinet appointments.

Two of the names that have been mentioned for secretary of state are opposite in inclination. Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee has a reputation as a constructive and tireless dealmaker. He played a central role in the legislative manoeuvre that allowed Obama to move the JCPOA through Congress without requiring a positive vote of approval. Former UN ambassador John Bolton, on the other hand, repeatedly denigrated negotiations with Iran and advocated moving directly to military action as the solution. The JCPOA is far more likely to survive under Corker.

Given that it is an agreement among eight parties, the JCPOA cannot easily be abrogated unilaterally. In addition to Iran and the US, the UK, France, Germany, China, Russia and the EU as an independent player are also important stakeholders. All have a strong interest – politically, strategically and commercially – in its continued implementation and will not meekly acquiesce to a US demand to renegotiate the conditions. If the JCPOA broke down because the US unilaterally applied new penalties that were not deemed to be justified by an egregious Iranian violation, there would be little support for actually implementing sanctions under the deal’s ‘snap-back’ provision. Although America’s outsized role in the international financial system gives it an advantage in being able to impose secondary sanctions, such measures require some degree of buy-in from other parties. The EU has used blocking legislation in the past to prohibit individuals and entities under its jurisdiction from complying with US sanctions. It is not inconceivable that it would do so again in the event of unilateral US action that was not clearly warranted. America’s allies will surely be explaining this to the new administration.

Rather than a quick dispatch, the real danger to the JCPOA is a slow death, as oxygen is withheld. As former US negotiator Richard Nephew recently explained, the president may refuse to sign off on extending waivers of sanctions, as called for in the deal. This, too, may well depend on Trump’s cabinet appointments and, optimistically put, is open to question. What is almost certain, however, is that the next administration will not take any action to encourage European banks and companies to resume business with Iran the way that Secretary of State John Kerry has. Given that Iran’s main complaint with respect to the JCPOA’s implementation to date has been the slow pace at which foreign businesses have returned to the country, this may prove to be a major issue. Continued attempts by the Republican-controlled Congress to introduce new sanctions or other restrictions will pose an additional challenge. No longer would such attempts face the threat of a presidential veto.

Although Iran’s economy is in much better shape than many expected, the growing disenchantment of the Iranian public due to unmet expectations poses a difficulty for President Hassan Rouhani. His administration has invested immense political capital in reaching the agreement – so much so, in fact, that a domestic economic reform plan was dubbed BARJAM 2, as the JCPOA is known under its Persian acronym. Facing re-election in May 2017, Rouhani is under increasing pressure by hardliners. If more tangible effects of sanctions relief fail, or are too slow, to materialise, Iran will have less of an incentive to implement its own commitments.

Iran could be expected to calibrate its response so that blame for breaking the JCPOA would fall elsewhere. For example, rather than rushing to re-install the 9,000 centrifuges that were removed last year, thereby triggering international opprobrium, Tehran could take less visible steps, such as ramping up research and development on advanced centrifuges. An effort to drive a wedge between the US and its allies would be facilitated if Trump followed through with some of his other campaign rhetoric, such as his denigration of NATO. It would not be a winning strategy for the new president. But for the time being, all bets are off.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director, IISS–Americas.

Paulina Izewicz is IISS Research Associate for Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy.

Dana H. Allin: President Trump

Donald Trump is president-elect of the United States. Mail-in ballots on the West Coast, and provisional ballots throughout the country, are still being counted. It looks certain, however, that Hillary Clinton, not Trump, will win the popular vote by a margin of between one and two percentage points, or somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million votes. So this is the fifth time in American history that the winner of the popular vote has lost the electoral college and therefore the presidency. And it is the second time it has happened in the past five presidential elections. By historical standards, the popular-vote margin was not even especially close: Clinton’s winning margin is on the order of four times larger than Al Gore’s, and Gore won the national vote by a larger margin than Richard Nixon’s over Hubert Humphrey in 1968, or John Kennedy’s over Richard Nixon in 1960.

Beyond any solace of moral vindication that Democrats might cling to, the mismatch between votes and victory is significant because it is tied to the structural reason that Trump won and Clinton lost, offering at least a partial insight into the motivations of Trump’s voters. A complete analysis is not yet available, but Trump won over rural, small-town and working-class white voters without a college education, in comparison to Clinton’s more racially mixed and more highly educated urban voters. Or, as others have put it, the losers versus the winners of globalisation. 

The designations are relative and somewhat subjective. The plight of American blacks has been bad for centuries, but has gotten steadily better since the 1960s. They credit the Democratic Party for their improvement, and remember that Barry Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 morphed into a Southern Strategy. Hispanics’ progress has been geographic –their parents or grandparents came to North America for a better life and, though that life remains tough, it is better than what they left behind and they know it. Other minorities – Asians, Jews – are economically natural Republicans, but they smell prejudice and racial fear-mongering, and have the muscle memory to know that the scapegoating of one minority usually ends badly for others. And they, too, are winners of globalisation.

For congressional races, Clinton’s voters are naturally gerrymandered – they are packed more tightly together in urban districts where the preponderance of Democratic votes is wasted. There was also, obviously, a mal-distribution of Democratic voters in the presidential electoral college. Certainly, many Hispanic votes are likewise wasted because of their concentration in California, safely Democratic, and Texas, for now safely Republican.

The difference from Trump voters was therefore at once ethnic, cultural and geographic. Rural, working-class and less educated whites are objectively losing out, and certainly feel themselves losers of an economic transformation which benefits vibrant cities to which they cannot move, and which they may associate with changes in the very complexion of American society.

Trump’s campaign appeal was overtly racist, which is not quite the same thing as saying that the anger and motivation of his voters was predominantly racist. It might better be called white-ethnic anxiety, and has to be understood in the context of communities that really feel they are slipping – a slippage that was hinted at in research published more than a year ago that indicated an astonishing rise in white, middle-class mortality, a phenomenon utterly at odds with any comparable wealthy society and more reminiscent of post-Soviet Russia.

The racial subtext of American politics is enduring and difficult. One of its most powerful documents was the speech that Barack Obama gave just over eight years ago when his candidacy was threatened by a racial firestorm ignited by the sermons of the black preacher at the Chicago church that Obama and his family had attended. Obama spoke of the trials and tribulations of American blacks since slavery, but he also expressed a profound empathy for whites such as his grandmother – ‘a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.’ And then he said this:

Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they're concerned, no one handed them anything. They built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pensions dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and they feel their dreams slipping away. And in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Genuine empathy for this resentment has a logical corollary that the conservative party in a two-party system is likely to be racially conservative as well, and the natural home for resentful whites. It follows that the strategic decision to embrace the disaffection of southern whites after the civil rights revolution of the 1960s was not fundamentally culpable. It put Republicans on the wrong side of history – yet, in a two-party system, it could be argued that someone had to be there. Richard Nixon may have done his country a service in siphoning votes from the overtly racist George Wallace without embracing Wallace’s overt racism.

But now Donald Trump has used Wallace language rather than Nixonian language, and he has won the presidency. Here the Republican Party is culpable. The ground was laid for Trump in the exploitation of Tea Party rage that was so clearly directed against America’s first black president, in the pursuit of a policy of blanket obstruction throughout his presidency, going so far as to use the credit worthiness of the United States as a means of extortion for political ends, and in the refusal to repudiate the odious ‘birtherism’ – a feverish conspiracy theory that the black man in the White House could not be a legitimate president because he was not a real American. Where was the birth certificate? (Ironically, whereas Obama was irrefutably born in the American state of Hawaii, his opponent in the 2008 campaign was in fact born in the Panama Canal Zone.) The most prominent and energetic birther was one Donald Trump.

Many Republican leaders did recoil when it became apparent that Trump would win their party’s nomination for president. Some refused to support him and have maintained that refusal. Most, however, rallied around. And their decision has paid off, for they are about to take control of all three branches of the federal government.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival, and IISS Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs.

From the latest Survival: Republican Foreign Policy After Trump

With one day to go before Americans cast their ballots, the impact of Republican candidate Donald Trump on his own party has already been profound, regardless of the results of Tuesday’s vote. In the latest issue of Survival, Kori Schake examines the anti-establishment, isolationist vision that Trump has for America’s role in the world, and the implications of its endorsement by his supporters. She argues that the Republican Party has in recent years failed to provide adequate policy responses to voters’ concerns, and must respect and address the views of Trump’s base in order to re-establish trust and earn back their votes for a more prosperous and sustainable US foreign policy:

Republicans are still debating the legacies of George W. Bush: big-government conservatism and Wilsonian internationalism. Neither sit comfortably with conservatives. Members of the policy elite who complain that Trump supporters are demolishing the system without anything to replace it are effectively countered, even beyond Trump’s base, with the charge that the system is only working for people like them, while the people most in need of opportunities are excluded. Elites will have to respect these views in order to regain voters’ trust. And that trust is needed to earn their votes for a foreign policy that keeps the United States prosperous and confronts international challenges in sustainable ways.

Read the full article.

Teresa Herzenberg is editorial assistant of Survival.

US Election Day Round Up: Survival on the 2016 Presidential Campaign

The day has finally arrived: American voters are heading to the polls today to have their say after one of the most gruelling presidential campaigns in US history. In the past year, Survival’s editors and contributing authors have shared their reactions, both positive and negative, to the candidates, as well as their predictions for the future direction of the United States.

From the journal:

‘Clinton and Trump: Two Faces of American Nationalism’, by Anatol Lieven
58:5 (October–November 2016)
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton exemplify new forms of old nationalisms that are likely to define politics in the United States for many years to come. Read the full article.

‘Information Warfare and the US Presidential Election’, by Nigel Inkster
58:5 (October–November 2016)
If the Russian state was indeed behind the leaking of Democratic National Committee emails, it may have overplayed its hand. Read the full article.

‘Republican Foreign Policy After Trump’, by Kori Schake
58:5 (October–November 2016)
Donald Trump’s supporters are genuinely questioning America’s role in the world; Republicans owe them persuasive answers on their own terms. Read the full article.

‘Donald Trump’s America’, by Dana H. Allin
58:2 (April–May 2016)
Initial disbelief at Trump’s ability to secure the Republican nomination – through a mixture of xenophobia, media savvy, appeal to middle-class anxieties, and attacks on the American political establishment – cedes to the realisation that although his party rebukes him, Trump is widely attractive to a radicalised right-wing voter base. Read the full article.

From the blog:

‘Donald Trump, a Higher Level of Shock Jock’, by Dana H. Allin
10 October 2016
Donald Trump – amid threats to jail his political opponent, ban Muslims, incite violence, and more – is a threat to American constitutional order. Read the full post.

‘Nigel Farage Hits the Trump Trail’, by Matthew Harries
25 August 2016
At a rally in Jackson, Mississippi, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, Nigel Farage, told supporters of Republican nominee Donald Trump that they could do in the US what the campaign for Brexit had done in Britain. Read the full post.

‘Taking Trump Seriously’, by Dana H. Allin
2 August 2016
Trump’s policies during this election campaign tell us several things about the state of the nation: one is that a national consensus around post-war traditions and commitments can no longer be assumed. Read the full post.

‘Five Reasons to Think Trump Could Win’, by Matthew Harries
28 July 2016
Despite all reasonable beliefs to the contrary, Donald Trump isn’t going anywhere and has a legitimate chance of winning. Read the full post.

‘Trump is Really Happening’, by Dana H. Allin
4 May 2016
Trump’s capture of the Republican nomination tells us a lot about the state of America, and will have broad implications for the Republican Party, US liberal democracy and constitutional order. Read the full post.

‘Trump’s Loud Silent Majority’, by Dana H. Allin
18 March 2016
Trump recalls Nixon’s use of the phrase the ‘silent majority’ to channel the resentment of white-middle-class Americans against a liberalising American society. Read the full post.

‘Donald Trump and the American Dream’, by Dana H. Allin
4 March 2016
In light of Trump’s success during the primaries, many Republican leaders are at a loss to understand how their party has arrived here, and are divided over denunciating him or pledging begrudging support. Read the full post.

‘Sanders and Trump’, by Dana H. Allin
24 February 2016
During the primaries many parallels were drawn between Democratic primary candidate Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump, but behind this lazy ‘anti-establishment’ symmetry Trump proposes the banning of all Muslims to the US and torture for suspected terrorists while Sanders calls for free education in state universities. Read the full post.

‘Out of New Hampshire, and Out of Control?’, by Dana H. Allin
10 February 2016
The Tea Party advanced in Congress following anger at Obama’s election and re-election, but it has proved an inadequate vessel to contain the fear and loathing which has now metastasised into the phenomenon of Donald Trump. Read the full post.

‘Iowa and Theories of Politics’, by Dana H. Allin
2 February 2016
If the metric is which party at least marginally improved its chances of winning the presidency next November, then Republicans had a better night in Iowa because of the strong third place showing of Senator Marco Rubio. Read the full post.

‘Hillary Wins in Vegas’, by Dana H. Allin
14 October 2015
Hillary Clinton was widely touted as the winner of the first Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas, largely due to her embrace of President Obama’s policies. Read the full post.

‘The Democrats’ Debate and Israel’, by Steven Simon
13 October 2015
Prior to the first Democratic primary debate, Simon predicts that policies in the Middle East, including relations with Israel, will come up, and that continued support for Israel along with sustained discussions with Iran on their nuclear programme are key. Read the full post.

Teresa Herzenberg is editorial assistant of Survival.

From the latest Survival – Clinton and Trump: Two Faces of American Nationalism

America’s 2016 presidential candidates clash on countless issues across their platforms, but arguably more on their incompatible ideals of American nationalism than on any other matter. In the latest issue of Survival, Anatol Lieven argues that Trump and Clinton represent long-standing strains of American political culture, traditions that have shifted and evolved over time with society. This cleavage, Lieven suggests, is likely to define US politics and civic-nationalist discourse for years to come:

David Brooks has written that the conflict between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ versions of US identity and policy will, over the next decade, destroy the existing configuration of party politics, and define politics for a long time to come. ‘Where Trump fails’, he says, ‘someone else will succeed.’ It should be added, however, that this is not only because of the effects of globalisation on different sections of the US population. It is also because these two positions represent old, and even fundamental, traditions of US nationalism. As a result of the reaction to the almost unprecedented shock of 9/11, George Bush was able to mobilise both chauvinist and civic nationalism behind a programme of expanding US global power in the name of spreading freedom and democracy. The disastrous results, however, have helped turn the American antithesis back towards defensive chauvinism. Together with the negative effects of economic globalisation, growing inequality and mass migration on the US white working classes, it seems inevitable that the sentiments reflected by Trump will remain powerful. But so too will the forces perpetuating Hillary Clinton’s version of American nationalism. And if the threats of Trump’s policies to the United States and the world are selfevident, Clinton’s nationalist faith in American power and righteousness also poses great dangers, given the diminishment of that power and the rise of rival states which categorically reject US dominance.

Read the full article.

Teresa Herzenberg is editorial assistant of Survival.

From the latest Survival: Information Warfare and the US Presidential Election

In a US election season that continues to shock and bewilder, the revelation that Russia may have been behind the leaking of Democratic National Committee emails added a new and disturbing twist. With many signs pointing to Russian state culpability, Nigel Inkster investigates these claims and contends that, if indeed responsible for the attacks, Russia may have overplayed its hand.

‘If we do assume that, on a balance of probabilities, the Russian state was behind the attack on the DNC network and the resultant leaking of its contents, what purpose was this meant to serve? It should hardly be surprising that the intelligence services of a foreign power in a confrontational relationship with the United States should take an interest in the latter’s presidential election and seek to gather intelligence on the process and candidates, including through computer-network exploitation. This is particularly true of an election in which, for the first time in living memory, the two presidential candidates appear to have verydifferent attitudes towards relations with Russia. While Clinton has adopted a generally hawkish approach, Trump has expressed a desire to ‘get along with Russia’,and has compared Putin favourably with President Barack Obama. To the extent that Trump has said anything about his approach to foreign policy more generally,he appears to incline towards greater isolationism and reluctance to act as the world’s policeman.’

Read the full article.

Teresa Herzenberg is editorial assistant of Survival.

Donald Trump, a higher level of shock jock

In the early 1980s, in those months when the Maryland State Legislature was in session, I drove daily from my Silver Spring apartment to Annapolis, covering it for a local newspaper. It was on these drives that I first listened to the raunchy, sometimes rancid – and yes, often funny – radio programme of Howard Stern. I’m pretty sure it was in relation to Stern that I first heard the words ‘shock jock’, though the derivation may be older. It was also to the Howard Stern Show that Donald Trump would come in subsequent years to discuss such enlightening subjects as the sexual attractiveness of Trump’s own daughter (though they did not fudge the matter with Latinate words).

Donald Trump has become the shock jock of American presidential politics. But we need to be clear about what this means. The threat is not to social propriety but to American constitutional order. The same man who was heard Friday on a 11-year-old recording bragging about sexual assaults (‘And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.’) told the opposing candidate at last night’s debate that when he becomes president, she will be jailed. To their credit, media commentators – even after 18 months of racist demagoguery, incitement to misogyny and violence, and promises of walls, war crimes and Muslim bans – recognised this threat as a profound and signal moment in American political history. The threat itself was not new; it was a standard refrain of the Republican national convention at which Trump was nominated – which is why we made this photograph the cover of the current issue of Survival.

© Getty Images

But for it to emit from the mouth of the man himself in the direct face of his opponent on national television was … well, words really fail. The American system contains checks and balances. Courts are generally independent. Trump looks, in any event, almost certain to lose. But not entirely certain, and the political system has brought him very close. And to imagine that a Donald Trump would become less reckless and less domineering when ‘clothed’, as we heard Daniel Day Lewis’ Lincoln intone, in the ‘immense power’ of the American presidency, would be to suffer a perilous failure of imagination. There is a word for the kind of state leader who combines aggressive sexual privilege with threats to lock up political opponents. That word is ‘dictator’, a concept that is hardly incompatible with electoral democracy, as Putin’s Russia and many other examples have shown. It is incompatible, however, with any residual notion of American Exceptionalism. 

Dana H. Allin is the editor of Survival, and IISS Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs.

Mark Fitzpatrick and Marc Barnett: Putin’s petulance shouldn’t stop US disposal of excess plutonium

Russia’s announcement on 3 October that it was suspending the 2000 agreement with the US to each dispose of 34 tonnes of excess military-use plutonium is an unfortunate departure from what had been the heyday of cooperation between the two superpowers in reducing nuclear dangers. The 68 tonnes of plutonium in question could produce on the order of 17,000 nuclear weapons. Removing it from military arsenals and making it unusable means that much less material would be potentially available to terrorists or anybody else intent on destructive purpose.

As argued in a recent joint report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Monterey, CA-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), Russia and the US should be doing the exact opposite, by ‘getting back on track’ with efforts to minimise and eliminate stocks of plutonium that had been produced for weapons purposes. Although the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), as it was called, has long been stalled over disputes over the disposition path and cost factors, it provided a good example of how the two powers could find ways verifiably to turn nuclear swords into ploughshares without harm to security considerations.

Russia’s complaint that the US was not fulfilling its part of the deal was correct in terms of debating points. The parties had agree to mix their excess plutonium with uranium to produce mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for use in certain nuclear power reactors. But the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility that the US was building at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina is behind schedule and at least $12 billion dollars over budget. It also turns out that MOX fuel is several times more expensive to produce than regular nuclear fuel, so the economics make no sense. Instead, the Obama Administration sought alternative methods of disposing of the excess plutonium, including by diluting it with a secret ingredient (literally – the inert compound called ‘stardust’ is classified) and burying it in an underground repository. But unless and until Russia agrees to this form of disposal, the US would technically be in violation of the agreement.

Russia’s decision to suspend the PMDA has little to do with such technicalities, however. The real reason is pique over US sanctions applied over Russia’s moves on Ukraine and the break-down in cooperation over Syria. This is what Putin meant by citing as reasons for pulling out of the agreement a ‘radically changed environment’ and ‘hostile’ US actions that posed a threat to strategic stability. The one silver lining is that Russia has not annulled the agreement, only suspended it. But Moscow’s conditions for renewing implementation are non-starters from Washington’s perspective: the removal of all Ukraine-related sanctions and compensation for damage imposed by those sanctions, the repeal of the Magnitsky Act which allows Washington to freeze assets of Russian officials suspected of human rights violations and, for good measure, reduction of the US military presence in NATO countries that joined after 1 September 2000.

Moscow’s suspension of the PMDA is but the latest in a string of recent unilateral Russian actions to overturn the cooperation that flourished in the early years after the end of the Cold War. In recent years, Moscow has gone further to limit cooperation on nuclear weapons, breaching the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and refusing to discuss limitations on tactical nuclear weapons. After the annexation of Crimea, the US Congress prohibited the use of US funds in Russia and Moscow then ended bilateral nuclear security cooperation. As a sign of a further deteriorating cooperation environment, Russia boycotted the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington from 31 March–1 April 2016.

Not everything is broken in the US–Russia nuclear realm. The two capitals worked closely together, along with other major powers, to complete last year’s accord to limit Iran’s nuclear programme, and they continue to cooperate in the implementation arrangements for the deal, although Russia sides with Iran on secrecy arrangements that trouble many American observers. Russia will also be an important player in the new sanctions now being drafted in the Security Council to punish North Korea for its latest nuclear test. Russian cooperation with the other nuclear weapons states will also be necessary if the recommendations made in the IISS–CNS report are to come to pass to improve the security of all nuclear materials, including those in the non-civilian sector.

Even if Russia maintains its peevish position on the PMDA, the US should continue unilaterally to abide by it and to dispose of its 34 tonnes of excess plutonium through the more cost-effective dilute-and-dispose method. Meanwhile it should open the disposal process to monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency. While it would be better for both countries to continue to minimise and eliminate excess nuclear materials, even unilateral action in this regard is beneficial to reducing the danger.

Mark Fitzpatrick is executive director of IISS-Americas and head of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme. Marc Barnett is an intern at IISS-Americas.

Erik Jones: Italy’s constitutional imbroglio

The US Ambassador to Italy, John Phillips, caused a minor uproar on Monday, 12 September, by telling the Italians that international investors would be disappointed with a ‘no’ vote in the upcoming referendum on constitutional reforms. At about the same time, Fitch announced that a popular rejection of the reforms would put downward pressure on the country’s ratings.

Given what is at stake in the referendum, these interventions were understandable. When Italians go to the polls in late November or early December, they will be voting on a reform of the constitution to strengthen the hand of the government and so give momentum to economic reform. This is a very old ambition among Italy’s politicians.  And it generates an equally old set of complaints within the same political class. Italians want more efficient institutions, but they are also wary of giving too much power to the prime minister and to other party leaders. Reform is good, they insist, but you can also have too much of a good thing.

Political leaders from all parts of the spectrum responded that the ambassador should mind his own business and that the ratings agencies should find some new analysts. Italy will be fine whatever the referendum outcome, they argued. If anything, this unwelcome foreign intervention will encourage the Italians to vote against the reforms just to prove a point. The echoes with Brexit were obvious – and widely noted. So is Italy headed for disaster, or is this just another storm in a teacup?

Scenario planning

It is hard to give a straight answer to the question. The reason is that there are so many forks in the road. If you drew this out as a decision tree, it would look more like a giant redwood than a desert cactus. There are so many ways that this could end up all right; and quite a few where it could go terribly wrong.

The first challenge is to see whether Italy will maintain the electoral law that was just introduced for the Chamber of Deputies. That electoral law is important because it gives the largest political party that receives more than 40% of the vote in the first round of polling an outright 55% majority in the distribution of seats. If no party gets more than 40% of the vote, then the two largest parties will go into a run-off election to see who gets the majority bonus. The country’s highest court is scheduled to deliver its ruling on the constitutionality of that law on 4 October. That court could vote to keep the law, it could amend the law, and it could also decide to defer its decision until after the referendum.

If the court keeps the law intact, then Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will be happy, but many of his adversaries will not. Indeed, many people even within Renzi’s own Democratic Party have said that they would vote ‘no’ in the constitutional referendum if this electoral law is not amended.

If the court strikes down the electoral law, then Renzi will be unhappy and his adversaries will be emboldened. Moreover, the kind of changes that the court can introduce into the electoral law will not make anyone suddenly fall in love with the constitutional-reform process; instead, they will make it easier for Renzi’s opponents to argue that Italy should go back to the status quo ante.

Since the court cannot make a clear decision without having an impact on the referendum, it may decide to defer its ruling until after the referendum is over. It is not clear what impact this could have on voting intentions. And this deferral may provide an important relief valve should the referendum fail.

People’s verdict

Once we know what is happening with the electoral law (approve, reject or defer), the question is whether the voters will support the constitutional reforms. The main reform is to demote the Senate so that the government only needs a majority in the Chamber of Deputies in order to pass legislation.

If the people vote ‘yes’ to support the constitutional reforms, then the Senate is demoted and whatever electoral law applies for the Chamber of Deputies will end up determining who runs the country – a single party or a coalition government.

If the people vote ‘no’ to reject the constitutional reforms, then any government will need a majority in the Senate as well as in the Chamber of Deputies. If the current electoral law is upheld, then those majorities will look very different after the next election. The current law applies only to the Chamber of Deputies; the Senate will be elected under (what is left of) the old electoral law, which is more proportional. This means one party will control the Chamber of Deputies and yet any government will need a coalition to control the Senate. That is a little like what Italy has at the moment – but the differences between who holds power in the two different chambers will be even starker because the current electoral law for the Senate is even more proportional than the electoral law that was used in the last election. (Readers are likely to be confused at this point in the description because the court already struck down the law that was used in the last election and replaced it with something more proportional.)

Fortunately, the people cannot vote to defer the constitutional reform issue and so they have only the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ options. But, if the court did decide to defer its own ruling on the electoral law for the Chamber of Deputies, then it could use its judgment to strike down the current electoral law in the event that the ‘no’ vote wins the referendum and so return Italy to the status quo ante before either the electoral law or the constitutional reforms were introduced.

The third issue is what happens after the referendum. Here it makes sense to combine elements to bring forward the discussion of both the constitutional reforms and the electoral law. To keep this short, I am going to focus on the central scenarios.

If the court upholds the electoral law and the ‘yes’ vote wins in the constitutional referendum, then Renzi will come out of the whole process with a great victory. But he will still have the same lopsided government – with a solid, one-party majority in the Chamber of Deputies and a more fragile coalition in the Senate – and two years to run on his parliamentary mandate. He will also have significantly less than 40% of the popular vote, at least if the most recent run of public opinion polls is accurate. Worse, he looks unlikely to win a run-off against his largest opponent, the populist Five Star Movement (M5S). So a short-term victory could turn into a medium-term problem.

If the ‘no’ vote wins in the referendum, then Renzi will resign from office no matter what the court decides about the electoral law. The President of the Republic could refuse to accept Renzi’s resignation or, more likely, he could ask Renzi to form the next government. But the blow to Renzi’s prestige would be considerable, he would face the same existing parliamentary situation, and he would confront the same opposition from the M5S. Ironically, for Renzi, the situation would be worse if the court upheld the current electoral law than if it used its authority to strike it down and replace the majority bonus for the Chamber of Deputies with a more proportional system. So the question is whether the current parliamentary majority is resilient enough to debate a new electoral reform before the current parliamentary mandate expires in 2018.

Patience running out

None of these scenarios sounds particularly promising. Nevertheless, Italians tend to look at this as ‘business as usual’. So the question is whether there are significant risks hiding in this morass of details. Two risks are worth considering.

The first of these has to do with the patience of the Italian people. There is a reason why the M5S is doing so well at the polls. It is not their competence in local administration. It is their ability to drive out the ruling elites. The longer Italy remains immobile, the stronger this support for the M5S will become. That is why it is not just important that Renzi wins the referendum and protects his other reform legislation (including the new electoral law), but also that his government takes advantage of their victory to show the capacity to change more and faster. That is a huge challenge, but the possibility that the Italian people will elect a political party that is incapable of governing effectively as an alternative is all too real.

The second risk derives from the patience of the investment community. If you have read this far, then you are well above average in patience for this issue. Most investors won’t waste either the time or the money that time represents. That is the problem. Most investors in Italian assets are holding onto their positions because it doesn’t really matter what happens in domestic Italian politics. So long as the European Central Bank is engaged in its large scale asset purchases, they can afford to ignore the daily manoeuvrings of the Italian political class. The problem is that the ECB is going to struggle to keep up the pace of purchases much beyond March 2017. And in either of the central scenarios sketched above, this situation is likely to drag on another year until the end of the current parliament in 2018. That means at some point either Mario Draghi is going to have to pull another rabbit out of his hat or large numbers of impatient asset portfolio managers (who did not read this far into the note) are going to wake up to an incomprehensible situation where an Italy beset by real world crises is engaged in unending debates about electoral system designs and constitutional reforms. When that happens, they will look at price declines in the bond markets and start jogging toward the exit.

The current Italian situation is more complicated than the headlines are saying – and that complexity is the problem. Italy will muddle through, no doubt, but the Italians themselves are getting increasingly fed up. Whether or not the international investment community is paying attention now is not what matters. What that investment community does when it wakes up to the Italian impasse is more important. Italy has a short window now where the ECB has bought it some indifference. If Renzi can capitalise on that time to make meaningful reforms – including, but not limited to, the upcoming constitutional referendum – then he may even succeed in bringing the Italians along with him. If Renzi falters, however, it won’t matter much whether or not he stays around. Because it will only be a matter of time before either the Italian people or the international investment community lose their patience.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is a Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, and a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. He can be followed on Twitter at @Erik_Jones_SAIS. An earlier version of this post appeared on Erik Jones’s personal blog.

Sophia Besch: Minus Britain, the EU brainstorms in Bratislava

As Brussels and European Union capitals get back into their political rhythm again after the summer break, the EU meeting in Bratislava on Friday 16 September is set to be anything but business as usual.

For one thing, Theresa May, United Kingdom Prime Minister and officially still part of the EU club, has not been invited (which is why EU jargon refers to the talks as an informal meeting rather than a formal meeting of the European Council).

But EU leaders cannot afford to spend too much time on the British. Bratislava takes place at a time of unprecedented popular scepticism towards the EU, with populist parties in most member-states questioning the Union’s raison d'être.

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, has convened Friday’s meetings with these trends in mind, warning national representatives that ‘ordinary people … do not share our Euro-enthusiasm’, urging leaders to pause and reflect, and to take the concerns of their citizens seriously. He is right to do so. Against the background of the migration crisis and multiple terrorist attacks on European soil, many voters have lost faith in the basic capacity of the EU to control its borders, and to guarantee the security of its citizens.

A plethora of proposals to strengthen EU defence cooperation have been released in the days and weeks leading up to the Bratislava meeting. Many are sensible, if not necessarily new. As the EU is engaged in multiple military missions – from fighting people-smuggling in the Mediterranean Sea, to a training mission in Mali and counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa – each with its own national temporary command centre, a (modest) permanent military headquarters would be a more efficient way of running them all. And few would question the merits of streamlining defence procurement mechanisms between European member-states. Some of these ideas have gained momentum because of the prospect that Britain will soon be unable to veto them; others may appear to leaders a convenient way to demonstrate unity. All of them risk oblivion if they are not followed up with tangible increased investments and an EU strategy for tackling the conflicts to its south.

This Friday in Bratislava, defence cooperation plans may offer an opportunity for the EU27 to ascertain the union’s legitimacy as a security guarantor. But they are unlikely to distract from the disagreements that still exist over many of the EU’s remaining fundamental challenges.

Devising a coherent economic policy continues to be one such challenge. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, well aware that she has a reputation for growing her own country’s economy at the expense of allies, wants to revive the European social compact. She plans to discuss youth employment schemes, and ways to increase the EU’s global competitiveness. But she is unlikely to win over the leaders of those southern member-states who gathered last week for a ‘Mediterranean Summit’ to rail against fiscal austerity and a ‘German union’.

Other long-standing divisions have also come to the surface again in the weeks preceding the Bratislava meeting. The row between the EU institutions and Poland’s governing Law and Justice Party over changes to the country’s constitutional court and other reforms undermining the rule of law is ongoing. In the debate over the treatment of immigrants and refugees, Luxembourg’s foreign minister has called for Hungary to be expelled from the EU. And the four Central European Visegrad group governments are reportedly plotting to demand broad power shifts from Brussels to national capitals during the Bratislava meeting - something which would inevitably require treaty revision.

For the British themselves, Bratislava will be a first potent demonstration that they will have to invest in creating a strong European network to enable them to lobby for British interests outside the negotiating room. From potential reforms to freedom of movement to the evolving relationship between NATO and EU defence – both topics of crucial relevance for Britain –the UK will be watching from the sidelines.

Friday’s meetings can be thought of as the beginning of a brainstorming process over the EU’s future. Bratislava will probably not produce any concrete results; member-states can hope at most to demonstrate unity and a spirit of renewal.

Brussels has set itself an unofficial deadline of completing the thinking phase by the time the EU celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome next spring. By that time, EU leaders will have to move past promises and deliver something their citizens can believe in.

Sophia Besch is a research fellow at the Centre for European Reform. Her article, ‘Brexit: What Have We Learned So Far?’, co-authored with James Black, will appear in the October–November issue of Survival.

Erik Jones: A Compelling Vision for Europe

Europe’s heads of state and government face a real dilemma. They want to attract support for European integration from the people of Europe and they also want to show the outside world that the European Union remains a major source of dynamism and innovation. So the question is how best to achieve those two goals. Should they propose a new project that will attract everyone’s attention or should they try to come up with some ‘vision’ that explains why Europe still matters?

They seem to be going down the project route. The Five Presidents’ Report includes a number of new ‘unions’ – fiscal, financial, political, etc. Now German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande are adding a defence union into the mix. These projects attract a lot of attention, but usually from the wrong people. They are attractive to policy experts who debate what institutions should be built and which are not required; how to combine efforts at the member state and EU level; where priority should be given; and how all the pieces interact.

The problem is that the same conversations bore most ‘normal’ people who don’t spend their time imagining new intergovernmental and supranational arrangements and who see all this activity as a distraction from serious efforts to address slow economic performance, high unemployment, mass migration, and all the rest. By the same token, most people outside Europe take new initiatives with a healthy dose of cynicism. They pay more attention to Europe’s failures at the moment than to its successes; they do not want to repeat mistakes Europeans have already made. And they wonder how you can build new projects on such shaky foundations.

Most European leaders distrust the ‘vision’ route. They all remember a time – mostly from schoolbooks – when Europe was about ‘Franco-German reconciliation’, ‘the end of world war’ and ‘moving beyond the nation-state’. Those were great slogans in the late 1940s and early 1950s that could be used to justify elite policy activity in the face of a largely disinterested but believing public. The rest of the world was as cynical then as it is today but Europeans proved them wrong. Each time Europe was relaunched there was another slogan. Some of these visions of Europe were more successful and some less. We can all remember times when European integration was less than dynamic, and we can remember times when it really captured the imagination.

The 1992 campaign was a highpoint. Johns Hopkins University professor Nicolas Jabko has looked closely at how the Commission used the language of the market to capture the imagination. That was the genius of European Commission president Jacques Delors and his team. That genius did not extend to monetary union. The 1992 campaign was a highpoint in terms of vision, popular support, and global anticipation for what Europe could become. That enthusiasm peaked with the negotiation of the Maastricht Treaty and then collapsed during the Maastricht ratification process. I suspect that is why so many politicians are wary of the ‘vision’ thing. They know that it cannot last forever and the hangover after the party is a painful one.

Europe’s heads of state and government need to go down the ‘vision’ route in Bratislava where EU leaders are meeting Friday, without the exiting UK. Europe doesn’t need a ‘project’ at the moment. It already has too many projects that are half-built and in need of attention. The Brexit negotiations are going to be absorbing as well. And let’s not forget all those real-world concerns about slow growth, unemployment, and migration that ‘normal’ people find so important. There is also the turmoil – both real and potential – in Europe’s wider neighbourhood; that is not to mention the real sense of unease that is being generated by the US presidential elections. No single project can address all these concerns: at worst it will provoke an unnecessary controversy; at best it will just get lost in the mix.

Europe’s leaders need to step back and ask what their Union means. They should pick a value that is a real priority. At the end of the Second World War, that value was peace and reconciliation. In the 1960s, it was autonomy. In the 1970s, it was democracy and stability. In the 1980s, it was prosperity and competitiveness. The 1990s flirted with too many themes; the 2000s started trying to bring Europe closer to the people and ended up doing exactly the opposite. So Europe’s leaders need to think hard about what the people want right now and how Europe can help them reach that objective.

The answer is going to be equality. Europe cannot eliminate income inequality and it should not be engaged in large-scale, cross-border redistribution.  But it can and does promote equality of opportunity; and that equality of opportunity only works because Europe also provides a floor so that countries can take risks without experiencing the threat of collapse.  In that sense, ‘Europe’ is about making sure every country (nation, people) has the opportunity to succeed and no country (nation, people) is left behind.

Europe’s leaders should commit to that objective. They should explain how the kind of equality that Europe can promote connects really popular, push-button issues like roaming charges and corporate taxation, to the much wider array of European measures to protect consumers, protect market competition, stabilise banks, tackle migration, and project European values abroad. To make this work, though, they are going to have to really sell the message: Europe is about equality. And then they are going to have to learn what it means to ‘walk the walk’ and act in a manner that is consistent with that message.

Selling the message of equality consistently is going to require repatriating some powers back to the member states. To have a chance at success, governments have to be allowed to experiment, which also means taking risks.  Selling a message of equality is also going to mean making exceptions for small countries as well as large ones.  Governments make mistakes; they also find themselves in exceptional circumstances.  No rule-based arrangement can ever anticipate all contingencies.  Often, it is the rules and not the governments (countries, nations) that must bend.  This kind of equality is going to mean applying discretion judiciously rather than enforcing the rules strictly even when they obviously put one or more member states at a disadvantage.

To do all of this, Europe will have to move forward and backwards at the same time. Such discretion is a prerogative of the Union as a whole and not the gift of any specific member state. It will be a complicated dance. But the difference between that ‘visionary’ future and the vision-less present is that the European people will know why they are doing things, and they will have a good intuitive understanding of when things are not working properly and when Europe is truly a success.

The rest of the world will have a better appreciation of what Europe is as well. And they will be able to talk about European success and failure in the same transparent language. If the goal is to build up credibility, that is how things have to be. Europe has to achieve what it sets out to do and the rest of the world has to be able to understand what that is and why it is important.

If Europe’s heads of state and government go down this vision route, then ‘Europe’ will be the ‘project’. It will not be a new project. As Lucy Kellaway pointed out in the Financial Times recently, we don’t need creativity at the moment. We need commitment. And a Europe that promotes equality where every country (nation, people) has the opportunity to succeed and no country (nation, people) is left behind is something worth fighting for – not just in Europe and not just for Europeans, but elsewhere as well.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is a Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, and a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. He can be followed on Twitter at @Erik_Jones_SAIS. An earlier version of this post appeared in E!Sharp.

Mark Fitzpatrick: No, Iran was not advantaged by clarification of nuclear limits

On 1 September, David Albright and Andrea Stricker of the Institute for Science and International Security – the ‘good’ ISIS, according to its Twitter handle – triggered renewed criticism of last year’s Iran nuclear accord by claiming that Iran was secretly granted exemptions to the limits imposed by the deal. The authors suggest this was done in order to allow Iran to be in compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by ‘Implementation Day’ on 16 January 2016. An ensuing Twitter firestorm was remarkable for the level of thin-skinned derision on show. At the risk of being denigrated as a ‘JCPOA surrogate’, I judge ISIS’s claims to be misleading.

For starters, let’s keep things in perspective. Under the JCPOA, Iran eliminated all of its usable 20%-enriched uranium and 98% of its 3.5% low-enriched uranium (LEU). All Iran is allowed to keep on hand, for 15 years, is 300kg of LEU. This limit and the restrictions on centrifuge numbers and types ensure that Iran cannot ‘break out’ of its non-proliferation obligations and produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon in less than a year.

A key claim by ISIS is that some LEU in waste form was subsequently exempted from these limits. How much is not stated, but judging from the description, it cannot have been more than a small fraction of the allowed amount. My educated guess is that it is probably less than half of 1% of the original stockpile. It has no bearing on the breakout time, because of both the minuteness and the form.

An open question is whether this waste LEU was considered part of the 300kg limit to begin with. Probably not. Most of it is in a large pond of sludge at Natanz and is unrecoverable for all practical purposes. In theory, the LEU could be extracted but doing so would take far too much time and effort. The JCPOA did exclude Russian nuclear fuel from the limit, on grounds that Iran could not use it to break out, so presumably the sludge would have been similarly excluded if attention had been given to the matter.

Because there is no technical definition of ‘stockpile’, at least not in the lexicon of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the parties to the JCPOA had to decide it themselves. It is not surprising that they did not do so amidst all the more important matters that were negotiated in the hectic sessions leading up to the 14 July 2015 agreement. The LEU sludge and other small and unanticipated details were left to be determined later by a Joint Commission comprised of the negotiating parties. 

As an aside, some JCPOA critics think it outrageous that Iran is even accorded membership in the Joint Commission that decides such matters. Their prescription – that Iran’s only proper role is to be dictated to – was not remotely possible in any negotiated agreement.

The three other claims by Albright and Stricker appear to misunderstand decisions of the Joint Commission that give no particular benefit to Iran. The excess heavy water that Iran exported to Oman, for holding until it can be sold, was not counted against the 130-tonne limit on heavy-water holdings because once in Oman’s hands it is no longer available to Iran. A purchase of 32 tonnes by the US Department of Energy for use in non-nuclear applications was at fair market value, did not undercut any Canadian supplier and does not presage any ongoing purchase agreement that would legitimise Iranian heavy-water production. Iran would continue to produce heavy water anyway for its own requirements for a reconfigured Araq research reactor. Technical reasons would preclude slowing down production or stopping and restarting the plant.

The ISIS authors also find fault with a Joint Commission decision regarding hot cells that Iran has been using for medical purposes – but what is the problem here? The JCPOA anticipated that Iran would be allowed to operate some hot cells larger than those stated in the agreement. Iran reportedly asked for permission to operate 19 that were already in use. If they were joined together they could be used to separate plutonium, which the JCPOA prohibits, but they are located in several different medical facilities and are hence not a proliferation threat. The IAEA now has access to them, and probably is grateful to know where they all are, since Iran was not previously required to declare hot cells that were not used for nuclear material.

One other claim by ISIS about 20%-enriched uranium in ‘lab contaminant’ is hard to understand, but as New Mexico-based chemist Cheryl Rofer suggests, may be related to trace amounts of this material that inspectors would likely find in laboratories while conducting environmental swipe sampling. If this is what is meant, it would be entirely reasonable to exclude such material from the limits.

It is useful for non-governmental experts such as those at ISIS to ask probing questions about JCPOA implementation. And it is frustrating when full answers are not forthcoming due to the confidentiality built into the agreement. State Department spokesperson John Kirby surely was himself frustrated that confidentiality rules precluded straight answers to some of the questions he was peppered with on 1 September. But to deride him for upholding the rules shows a strange lack of understanding by seasoned experts. Under the JCPOA, decisions by the Joint Commission are kept confidential unless all members agree otherwise. So far, even anodyne matters have not been released.

Iran apparently insists on confidentiality now in order to demonstrate its changed status. It no longer stands accused of violations under Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015), which replaced previous sanctions resolutions. Iran similarly insists on the information it provides to the IAEA being treated with ‘safeguards confidentiality’, the same as for other nations. One may call this a lack of transparency, but such confidentiality is important for the functioning of the safeguards system. Without it, states would be much less willing to cooperate with IAEA inspectors. Confidentiality does not mean complete secrecy, however. The US administration has briefed key members of the US Congress who, to their credit, have honoured the confidentiality requirement.

If decisions that clarified JCPOA limits were to materially affect the breakout times, then they certainly should be made public, or not be made at all. On the other hand, insisting that Joint Commission deliberations be transparent, come what may, would throw a monkey wrench into the gears. Total openness can impede effective diplomacy.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director, IISS-Americas.

Mark Fitzpatrick: A welcome North Korean defection

At a London think tank two years ago, I had an argument with a North Korean diplomat. Fed up with his ambassador's peace-loving protestations and the polite questions put to him by the largely British audience, I broke protocol and asked what possible purpose was served by his nation calling the leader of the free world a ‘wicked black monkey’. Afterwards, the embassy's number two official took me aside to explain that the North Korean news agency KCNA had not itself used those words against President Barack Obama; it was simply quoting an ordinary citizen, as newspapers elsewhere in the world typically do. I asked how he could possibly compare Pyongyang's state-run media with the free press of the West. Did he really expect me to believe the vile attacks on Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye were simply the words of a man on the street? Did he believe it himself?

Apparently not. The North Korean diplomat who so loyally defended his nation was Thae Yong-ho, who this July defected to South Korea. He no longer could serve as a flunky to a failing, corrupt system, to paraphrase a South Korean government spokesman. He was disgusted with the government of Kim Jong-un. He also was said to worry about the future of his children in the North Korean regime.

I often wonder how the children of North Korean diplomats who taste freedom abroad can cope with the regimented life back home. As members of the North Korean elite, foreign-ministry officials and their families enjoy a decent lifestyle. But they have to watch their every word to avoid falling victim to leader Kim Jong-un’s wrath. The public purges of Kim’s uncle Jang Song-thaek and senior military officers cast chilling reminders. So too the less well-reported purges of lower-ranking officials who get caught accessing internet sites without permission and are never heard of again.

Thae will have wanted to protect his children from such capriciousness. Luckily, he was able to escape with his entire nuclear family. Although the regime typically requires diplomats to leave one child behind, Thae was allowed to educate both of his sons in London.

Many North Koreans wish they could similarly escape. I have to believe that this is especially true for those, like Thae, who know first-hand the freedoms and prosperity that most of the rest of the world enjoys and see the lies of their own government. It was heartening when 13 workers at a North Korean restaurant in the Chinese city of Ningbo defected in April, the first known occasion of such a group defection. The number of well-connected defectors such as Thae, whose wife has close ties to the Kim family, is said to be rising.

Such defections reflect fissures in the regime. It is tempting to believe that they may also signal an impending regime collapse. Alas, we have seen this movie before. In 1997 the North Korean ambassador to Egypt defected along with his brother, a diplomat in France. The same year Hwang Jang-yop, architect of North Korea’s official state ideology of ‘juche’ (loosely translated as ‘self-reliance’), also defected. It was a time of famine in North Korea and leadership transition after Kim Il-sung’s death, when conditions seemed ripe for regime collapse. Two decades later, however, the state is stronger than ever, even apparently enjoying a degree of economic growth in the face of international sanctions.

It is the state’s military strength, particularly its nuclear programme, which concerns much of the world. For ten years in London, Thae Yong-ho publicly defended North Korea’s weapons development. He will now be able to provide insights to those who are trying to counter the nuclear programme. I wish him well.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director, IISS-Americas.

Correction, 24 August 2016: This post originally stated that Thae Yong-ho's father fought with former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung against the Japanese. The South Korean national intelligence service reportedly told a closed-door parliamentary committee session that this is not the case.

Matthew Harries: Nigel Farage hits the Trump trail

Last night in Jackson, Mississippi, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party told supporters of the Republican nominee for president that they could do in the United States what the campaign for Brexit had done in Britain. Nigel Farage meant this in the sense of victory for an anti-establishment underdog. British viewers might have been forgiven for thinking instead of the day when Farage posed in front of his newest campaign poster, depicting a long, curving column of refugees, nearly all dark-skinned, under the banner headline ‘BREAKING POINT’.

Two hours after Farage’s photoshoot that day, a member of parliament was shot and stabbed to death outside a library in West Yorkshire. The poster, which the murdered MP’s husband had shortly beforehand described as ‘vile’, was withdrawn; the rival campaigns took a weekend’s pause.

The timing was bad luck, of course. There was no evidence to suggest that Farage’s conduct in the weeks prior to the murder had inspired it (although the killer’s cry in court of ‘death to traitors, freedom for Britain’ gave some clue as to his inclinations). But the poster was widely seen as an emblem of a national debate that had slipped the bounds of civility. Had Britain voted to stay in the European Union, the conventional wisdom would have been that this was the moment when the Leave campaign’s relentless focus on immigration finally backfired.

Instead, as one of the referendum’s victors, Farage helped write its history. Flushed with vindication, he told a late-night campaign party that in Brexit, a revolution had been achieved ‘without a single bullet being fired’. This, he declared, was a victory ‘for ordinary people, a victory for decent people’.  

Farage reprised that line in Jackson, and by the act of appearing next to Donald Trump, made clear who he considers decent. Immigration, Farage has previously said, has turned parts of Britain into something resembling ‘a foreign land’. Any ‘normal’ person, he thinks, ‘would have a perfect right to be concerned if a group of Romanian people suddenly moved in next door’. Trump, it is evident by now, is cut from similar cloth.

Still, there was something incongruous about the joint appearance. For Farage, it meant abandoning the pretence of respectability, at least in British terms. Trump is wildly unpopular in the UK; were the president to be elected by Britons, according to a recent poll, Hillary Clinton would win by 34 percentage points. At a parliamentary hearing on a petition to ban Trump from the country, British MPs were practically elbowing each other aside to get on camera to call him a bigot.

Farage is soon to retire from front-line politics, so need not be much concerned about his image among the British public at large. For Trump, however, this was evidence that his latest ’pivot’ away from his harshest positions will struggle to withstand his instinct for gleeful rabble-rousing. In Jackson, Trump spoke awkwardly, and (until recently) uncharacteristically, from a teleprompter. Earlier the same evening, an interview with Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity had aired in which Trump appeared to back away from his promise to deport all 11 million of America’s undocumented immigrants.

In neither instance did Trump look fully comfortable. It is difficult to escape the feeling that his appearance with Farage would have been carried off more naturally by original-model Trump, the riffing provocateur. And the reaction of Trump’s supporters to his softening on immigration – including pro-deportation pundit Ann Coulter, who yesterday suffered the misfortune of publishing a book titled ‘In Trump We Trust’ only to have that trust immediately broken – suggests, too, that this new turn could be tricky to sustain. Like Farage, Trump is a man who seems to believe that his instincts have not failed him yet. How long will he manage to suppress them?

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Russia, Iran and the air-base deal that wasn’t

The abruptness with which Russian use of an Iranian air base was halted this week is a reminder that the two nations are not so much allies as partners in a marriage of convenience. The episode is also a reminder of Iran–US military cooperation not so long ago, a high point in relations that offers a beacon for the future.

On 16 August, a foreboding headline in the Washington Post spoke of Russia’s expanding footprint in the Middle East via its use of Iran’s Shahid Nojeh air base, near Hamadan, to strike rebel targets in Syria. After Russia announced the same day that its planes had taken off from the air base, Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said ‘Tehran–Moscow cooperation in the fight against terrorism in Syria is strategic’.

Six days later, however, Iran pulled the plug, which suggests that cooperation is still only tactical. After Defence Minister Hossein Deghan on 22 August expressed remarkable annoyance at what he termed Russia’s ‘show-off and ungentlemanly’ attitude, Iran announced that the operation was, for now, over.

It is not clear why Russia pre-emptively issued the announcement. The air-base cooperation was no secret among key players, and probably got started intermittently before the announcement. The Iranian people did not know about it, however.

When the operation became public, it struck a negative chord in Iran, where citizens remain both wary of foreign encroachment and mindful of Russia’s history of annexing Qajar Persian territories in the Caucasus after wars in the early nineteenth century. Some Iranian parliamentarians wrongly claimed that use of the airfield breached Iran’s current constitution, which prohibits basing of foreign militaries on Iranian soil. Russian aircraft were not based at Nojeh in the normal sense of the word – rather, they refuelled there. The base can accommodate long-range Russian bombers that require longer runways than are available at Russia’s new airbase in Latakia, Syria.

Iran must have been promised something in exchange for allowing Russia to use the airfield, but Deghan’s stern public criticism suggests that the quid pro quo was deemed insufficient. The inside story remains to be told. Meanwhile, Iran’s public posture continues to evolve. On 23 August, Shamkhani claimed Iran had initiated the entire operation and had ‘brought the powerful Russia along’ in the fight against jihadists.

This is not the first time that Iran has agreed to permit limited foreign use of its air bases. Most Iranians do not know that in connection with the US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, Iran secretly offered emergency access for US transport aircraft to several bases on the border. The swift retreat of the Taliban meant that the offer never had to be taken up, but material cooperation with the US military was manifested in other ways. According to Kenneth Pollack, Iran provided search-and-rescue support for downed American pilots and permitted offloading of humanitarian supplies at its Chabahar port for transport to Afghanistan. Iran also shared military intelligence.

The latter months of 2001 were a high point in post-Shah Iran–US relations, soon superseded by Israeli interception of Iranian arms bound for Palestine aboard the Karine A, and by President George W. Bush’s inclusion of Iran in the infamous ‘Axis of Evil’, described in his 29 January 2002 State of the Union address.

Abnormal though it was, cooperation against the Taliban stands as an example of what might be possible if Iran and the US could again find common cause. The Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) could be one such unifying force, if only Iran and Russia were not so intent on propping up the Assad regime and attacking US-supported Syrian rebels. The baggage carried by the key official in Iran’s fight against the Islamic State, Quds force commander General Qassem Soleimani, also works against cooperation with Washington. In the United States, he is notorious for having organised Shia militia in Iraq that targeted American forces. It is forgotten that in 2001, the same Soleimani was instrumental in the operation against the Taliban.

Iran and Western countries also face common challenges of a different kind, including drug smuggling and climate change. If Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei were not so deeply distrustful of America, there would be ample grounds for cooperation on any number of fronts. A tactical arrangement would be good enough.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director, IISS-Americas.

Dana H. Allin: Taking Trump Seriously

Is it ‘a category error’ to critique Donald Trump’s policy ideas because, as Matthew Yglesias suggests, they are so ‘ridiculous and inconsistent’? The answer, at the most obvious level, is yes. That is why it makes more sense to focus on his personality, which is outlandish but also fundamentally authoritarian. The genuine admiration that he repeatedly expresses for Russian President Vladimir Putin is less a matter of strategic appeasement than a manifest disinterest in the norms of democracy. 

But the New York Times interview of Trump published last month on the first day of the Republican National Convention, although not revealing much that we didn’t already know, was genuinely important in policy terms. Trump explicitly disavowed America’s Article 5 guarantee to defend NATO allies including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. ‘If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries, and in many cases the countries I’m talking about are extremely rich … Then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.”’

As policy this should be taken seriously because, whether or not it is ridiculous, it is consistent. Trump would enter office as the only genuinely isolationist president since the nineteenth century; although not, as a rule, philosophically inclined, he has expressed a coherent view of international relations as fiercely zero sum. In this view, NATO is an inherently bad deal for the US because the country is defending European allies who have little capacity to reciprocate, and who are unwilling to adequately pay for their protection. Likewise, maintaining a nuclear umbrella over South Korea and Japan seems to be a foolish and dangerous entanglement when those countries could just as well develop and deploy nuclear weapons themselves. And, of course, ‘isolationism’ is a mild term for what Trump conceives as the proper relationship between the US and its southern neighbour.

Last week, of course, the new controversy was Trump’s response to the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails. The contents were only mildly embarrassing – confirming that DNC staffers preferred Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, but in no way providing evidence that the primary campaign was ‘rigged’, as the most fervent Sanders supporters believe. It was enough, however, to force the resignation of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The very real possibility that Russian security services were behind the hack – a suspicion for which the evidence is strong if not definitive – has sent tremors of premonition through US foreign policy elites. Since 2000 a closely divided America has had only close presidential elections; what would be the effect on the legitimacy of US democracy if interference by a foreign power plausibly determined the outcome? Trump’s appeal to the Russians – joke or not – to find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails only compounded the unease.

Initial polls taken after both party nominating conventions indicate that Clinton has regained her narrow lead over Trump. It is too early to conclude that Trump will not become president, which would obviously be a new stage in the bizarre ongoing transformation of American politics. Even assuming that he loses, however, this election campaign tells us many unsettling things about the state of the nation. One of them is that a national consensus around post-war traditions and commitments can no longer be assumed. That the Republican nominee for president blithely threatens to abrogate Article 5 guarantees, invites Russian hacking of a Secretary of State’s correspondence, or, for that matter, attacks the Muslim family of a fallen American war hero is perhaps only the six thousandth Trump statement in defiance of American political norms. That he does so and pays no apparent political price among roughly four-tenths of the American electorate tells us that some bedrock assumptions can no longer be taken for granted. 

Going back to the first heresy – repudiation of NATO – we can’t be altogether surprised. I will be careful about comparisons between electing Trump and voting for Brexit, but it is fair to say that the supporters of both have revealed themselves to be unpersuaded about the importance of fundamental Western liberal institutions. And if Clinton is elected, she – just like Britain’s current government – is going to have a hard time figuring out what to do about it.

Dana H. Allin is the editor of Survival, and IISS Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs.

Jonathan Stevenson: The German Attacks and the Categorisation Problem

Four ‘lone wolf’ attacks within a single week rocked Germany last month – all four by Muslims, three by recent immigrants and three in Bavaria, the area of the country most accessible from the Middle East. On 18 July, an Afghan asylum seeker attacked and badly injured five people with a knife and an axe on a train near Würzburg. The worst incident occurred on 22 July when a German-Iranian national killed nine people and wounded 35 in a shooting spree at a Munich shopping mall before committing suicide. On 24 July, a Syrian refugee barred entry to a musical festival in Ansbach blew himself up, seriously injuring bystanders. Later the same day, another Syrian refugee stabbed a woman to death with a machete on the street in Reutlingen. In Berlin this past weekend, over 5,000 demonstrators protested Germany’s ‘open door’ immigration policy, and other protests were mounted elsewhere in the country.

Among the four attacks, however, only the Würzburg attack appears to be directly linked to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), the ISIS-affiliated Amaq News Agency having announced that the attacker had answered the group’s call and run a video of him pledging allegiance; a hand-made ISIS flag was found in the attacker’s bedroom. The Ansbach attacker apparently was inspired by ISIS, as a video of him proclaiming allegiance to the group was found on his cell phone. The other two incidents – including the most deadly one – are not properly characterised as terrorism at all. The Munich attacker, from a Shia Muslim family, evidently had been obsessed with the 2011 massacre perpetrated by right-wing Anders Behring Breivik in Norway, and the Reutlingen assault was apparently a crime of passion.

According to a 26 July New York Times article, researchers have uncovered some evidence suggesting that reports of atrocities regardless of specific motivation that are instantly propagated via the internet may trigger still more in suggestible individuals, creating a kind of associative contagion resulting in clusters of attacks. Further complicating this problem is the Islamic State’s habit of opportunistically claiming credit after the fact for destructive but non-political attacks that happen to be perpetrated by Muslims. Casting the perpetrators as soldiers who are heeding its exhortations, the group aims to feed perceptions of a lethal reach that is longer and more insidious than it actually may be. Even those attackers whose rhetoric or actions do suggest jihadist motivations may just be using it as a kind of twisted political cover for more personal grievances or anxieties. The Ansbach perpetrator had tried to kill himself twice before. These complicating factors, coupled with the high global incidence of conspicuous acts of mass violence this summer, has made it increasingly difficult – at least initially, and first impressions tend to stick – for people to distinguish terrorist attacks from the deeds of merely unhinged people who are not politically or ideologically motivated.

Blurred categories of attack pose stiff political and operational challenges to law-enforcement and intelligence agencies. In Germany, the occurrence of four attacks in quick succession, three by Muslim refugees, has reinforced perceptions that the country is facing a concerted jihadist onslaught from abroad, and fuelled xenophobia. The less alarming reality that two of the four attacks were not ideologically motivated, and the fact that refugees are no more likely to commit crime than others, have been obscured. Germans increasingly doubt the state’s capacity to both absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees and protect its citizens from imported political violence. They have raised political pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel to ensure that Germany is prepared to thwart operations on a par with the Paris, Brussels and Nice attacks.

If Merkel is to keep her immigration policy substantially intact, more effective policing operations may be necessary. The training of the German elite federal anti-terrorist police unit Grenzschutzgruppe 9 der Bundespolizei, known as GSG9, and its state counterparts known as Spezialeinsatzkommando (SEK) and the more lightly armed and nimble Mobiles Einsatzkommando (MEK) units, has focused on interdicting professional criminals and seasoned terrorist operatives and dealing with hostage situations. The same is largely true of corresponding American, Israeli and European anti-terrorist forces. Beyond obvious and somewhat formulaic prescriptions such as tighter hard-security measures in public areas and perhaps more fluid and robust information sharing about possible threats among agencies, lessons for dealing with lone-wolf attacks are difficult to distil precisely because of their often spontaneous nature and the relative insusceptibility of the perpetrators to surveillance.

One possibility is greater attention to quick-reaction capabilities, though faster responses would probably make a substantial difference only in attacks that unfolded relatively slowly, which would constitute a small minority of lone wolf operations. (An SEK unit did respond swiftly to the Würzburg attack, killing the perpetrator as he fled the scene, but the unit was coincidentally returning from a different mission.) Also worth considering: the Würzburg perpetrator lied about his identity to immigration officials, which enabled him to remain in the country, while the Ansbach bomber twice had his asylum application rejected but was not deported. In this light, more probing and efficient application and enforcement of immigration laws, which include provisions for vetting migrants for criminal histories and psychological problems as well as terrorist connections, may be a security imperative.

Jonathan Stevenson is IISS Senior Fellow for US Defence, and Editor of Strategic Comments.

Mark Fitzpatrick: The security risks of nuclear weapons in Turkey outweigh the benefits

Of the five NATO allies that still host United States nuclear weapons, I used to think that Turkey would be the last to see them removed. Unlike in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and (less so) Italy, there has been very little domestic opposition to the nuclear weapons in Turkey. In the aftermath of the 15 July failed coup, I now expect they will be the first to go.

There have been sound reasons for keeping a few dozen B-61 gravity bombs at Incirlik air base in Turkey. The number is classified but usually estimated to be 50–90. Forward deployed, as it were, in NATO’s southeastern-most partner, the weapons have contributed disproportionately to the alliance’s deterrence posture vis-à-vis potential adversaries on two fronts. The physical presence of the bombs also helped reassure America’s most doubtful ally. Turkey’s faith in NATO guarantees has been tested repeatedly, most recently in 2003 when the Alliance rebuffed a request for Article V consultations prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq. Yet the presence of tactical nuclear weapons reinforced the credibility of the NATO nuclear umbrella.

Just as important, the nuclear weapons also contributed to keeping Turkey loyal to its non-proliferation commitment. It is impossible to prove, much less quantify, this contribution, but it is often cited as a reason the state would have no need for indigenous nuclear weapons, even if Iran’s nuclear capability had not been restricted. Turkey has the means to develop nuclear weapons, based on its civilian nuclear industry, but not the motivation, since it has a far easier alternative. In time of war, about half of the bombs at Incirlik are reported to be assigned for release to Turkey if both Ankara and Washington approve. (The fact that Turkey no longer has pilots trained to deliver the weapons is another matter.)

The July coup raises serious questions, however, as to the security of the weapons at Incirlik. The Turkish base commander used assets there to fuel the F-16s that bombed the parliament. In response, the government closed the airspace over Incirlik, cut off its electricity and arrested the commander. Turkey’s labour minister accused the US of complicity; conspiracy theories about US involvement have flourished. There is thus greater reason to worry about the safety of the weapons than was the case during previous coups d’état and putsch attempts in Turkey. Washington’s rightful refusal to extradite Pennsylvania-based Fethullah Gulen without legitimate evidence to back up the Turkish government claim that he instigated the coup will exacerbate ill will.

This time, luck was against the putschists. It is not hard, however, to imagine circumstances resulting in a Turkish takeover of the US part of the base and commandeering of the nuclear weapons. They are well secured against theft, but, as Jeffrey Lewis points out, not against siege by a host nation. The ‘Permissive Action Links’ that protect against unauthorised use may be bypassed given sufficient time and training. Nuclear-weapons expert Hans Kristensen warned, ‘You only get so many warnings before something goes terribly wrong. It’s time to withdraw the weapons.’

Playing out the potential scenarios for further trouble, US defence planners would be negligent if they did not weigh withdrawing the nuclear weapons, just as B61s were taken out of Greece in 2001 over safety concerns. Elsewhere, nuclear weapons have been consolidated for security reasons under less worrisome conditions. Following a review of security deficiencies, they were withdrawn in 2008 from Royal Air Force Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, and in 2004 from Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Over the past several years, the world has given priority attention to securing nuclear material. Among other steps to protect against nuclear terrorism, the four nuclear-security summits held between 2012 and 2016 have prompted consolidation and elimination of vulnerable nuclear materials. The entire focus of this summit process has been on civilian-use nuclear material. Consolidation should also extend to the vast bulk of such material that is in military sectors. The most important step is to remove nuclear weapons themselves from situations of vulnerability.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director, IISS–Americas.

Matthew Harries: Five reasons to think Trump could win

1. The polls are tight

In the words of polling savant Nate Silver: ‘It's a close election right now.’ We are yet to see if Hillary Clinton will get a convention bump (the uptick in the polls that often follows a candidate’s extended airing on primetime television). But both national and battleground-state polls show that Donald Trump is now a competitive candidate – and this after he enjoyed only a moderate convention bump of his own.

There was a moment in midsummer when it looked as though the presidential election could be a blowout, with Trump flailing in response to a lawsuit brought against his ersatz university, and his campaign machinery looking not just disorganised but practically non-existent. That moment is over.

2. #NeverTrump never stood a chance

Some leading Republican figures have decided that Trump is so toxic as to be unacceptable as a presidential nominee. A hundred foreign-policy thinkers signed a letter saying so; the political scientist Robert Kagan wrote a scathing op-ed; Weekly Standard editor William Kristol waged a doleful, doomed campaign to find a last-minute alternative candidate; and some senators and congressmen, such as Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, have stuck their heads over the parapet to voice their opposition.

But this rearguard effort has not gained the support of anything like the majority of the party, nor, crucially, does it enjoy the support of key Republican office-holders. For RNC chairman Reince Priebus, Trump is ‘someone that’s going to go to Washington and shake things up’. House Speaker Paul Ryan believes, in starkly utilitarian terms, that ‘not supporting the duly elected nominee of our party … basically helps deny us the White House and strong majorities in Congress’. Senior party figures take to the airwaves after each of Trump’s rhetorical excesses to explain them away. Newt Gingrich, for example, claimed in March that Trump’s antipathy towards NATO was nothing more than ‘the Bush–Rumsfeld position, which is that the Europeans ought to pick up more of the slack’.

Trump has been mainstreamed by men who have decided that a Republican, any Republican – a Republican who might not actually be a Republican, a Republican who might hasten the downfall of the republic – is better than Hillary Clinton. There will be no bipartisan coming together against the Trump threat. This extraordinary election will be fought in the ordinary way.

3. A positive message could fail to persuade Trump voters

One of the many ways in which Trump is an exceptional candidate for president is that he speaks the language of American weakness, not American strength. Trump’s public words tell a story of America bullied by China and Russia, hoodwinked by Iran, beset by terrorists, destabilised by protesters, menaced by criminals, and, most importantly, left adrift in a changing global economy.

His opponents, both Republican and Democrat, have reacted much as one might have expected. ‘America is already great’, President Barack Obama told the DNC in response to Trump’s famous campaign slogan. But there is much danger in this approach. One hesitates to draw close comparisons to the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom, but it is worth pointing out that Remain’s warnings of economic catastrophe failed to win over those for whom the British economy had already been personally catastrophic. As Bob Dylan put it, ‘When you ain’t got nothing, you ain’t got nothing to lose’.

Trump has followed generations of demagogues before him in realising that mob fury grows from the sense that a once-mighty country is going to the dogs. Clinton faces a difficult task in acknowledging the prevalence of such feelings, in a country where globalisation and demographic change have left behind a bewildered social rump, without legitimising the dark nativism that accompanies them. She is not helped by the fact that, in substance, her potential presidency looks less like a moment of change or renewal than something close to a third Obama term.

4. There could be more email leaks to come

Whoever was responsible for hacking and then permitting publication of the DNC’s emails, there appears to be an actor with advanced cyber capabilities, an interest in damaging Clinton’s candidacy, and the willingness to disseminate stolen documents. We can guess, as others already have, that the same actor might have had access to Clinton’s private email server while she was secretary of state – or access perhaps to internal campaign emails, or to the emails of prominent Clinton fundraisers and surrogates, or other sensitive materials. It does not take an enormous leap of imagination to think that another damaging document dump closer to the election – the equivalent, say, of the video in which Mitt Romney wrote off 47% of Americans as indolent malcontents – could be decisive.

5. Outrage fatigue is normalising Trump’s extremism

Staying on the subject of emails, in an ordinary campaign, a call by the Republican candidate for a foreign country to hack his Democratic rival might have been treated as disqualifying, if not treasonous. But a year of successive Trump outrages – from his anti-Mexican campaign announcement, to his mocking of a disabled reporter, to his egging on of violence at his rallies, to his promotion of a ban on Muslim immigration, etc., etc., ad nauseam – has widened the boundaries of acceptable political discourse in the United States, and not for the better.

The American media is now in a cycle of reporting not so much the content of Trump’s calumnies so much as the controversy surrounding them. Not only does this provide Trump with the free publicity on which his shambolic campaign depends, it gives the impression that objecting to naked prejudice in a presidential candidate is something that Democrats, rather than Americans, do. Clinton will need to find a way to incite voters’ disgust without appearing partisan, prissy or monotonous, and do so in a way that leaves space in the news cycle for her own campaign themes. Many of Trump’s opponents to date have tried to do this; none have yet succeeded.

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Keep the Iran nuclear deal going strong

The first anniversary this month of the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), occasioned predictable assessments. Whether one thinks the deal is succeeding mostly depends on what one thought of the deal at the time. Those (like me) who applauded the agreement a year ago have expressed satisfaction that, so far, it has done exactly what it set out to do in effectively blocking any Iranian path to a nuclear weapon. Those who opposed the agreement, on grounds that it did not more tightly constrain Iran, point to continued troubling Iranian behaviour as evidence the deal is not working.

Let's look first at the positives. Three reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) so far this year confirm that Iran has met all the required conditions. The uranium stockpile has been reduced by 98% to less than 300 kg. The Arak reactor has been disabled. Nearly two thirds of the centrifuges have been removed. Fordow is no longer an enrichment facility. Intrusive inspections are taking place.

There is no more talk of war. Before negotiations began, an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities appeared to be close to a 50-50 proposition. Israeli security officials no longer raise public concerns about an Iranian nuclear threat.

Communication channels established in the negotiations are working well at all levels, providing structured space to address issues in a workmanlike way. The Procurement Working Group established by the JCPOA, for example, meets every three weeks, as planned. Cooperation in implementing the JCPOA is good both among the major powers, including Russia and China, and with Iran.

Not all is smooth sailing, to be sure. The procurement channel that was established to allow for legitimate trade in nuclear and dual-use materials has yet to be utilised. Meanwhile, unidentified German intelligence officials are reported to have said that Iran continued illegal procurement efforts past the date in January 2016 when the JCPOA came into effect. The Wall Street Journal report on the matter did not describe the procurements, but judging from German counter-intelligence reports of Iranian procurements in 2015, most of the purchase attempts in 2016 are likely to be related to Iran's missile programme, which was not covered by the JCPOA.

US and German government spokesmen have said, for the record, they have no information about any procurements that violate the deal. They may have information, however, about questionable procurement attempts. The Institute for Science and International Security reported that Iran has sought to obtain carbon fibre, which has both nuclear and missile – as well as civilian – applications. Dual-use goods like this can be obtained legally only through the Procurement Channel. Iran's claim that raw materials such as carbon fibre are not covered by the procurement channel rules is risible.

Troublesome Iranian behaviour in other non-nuclear areas is also problematic. Tehran continues to prop up the murderous Assad regime, to support Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups that employ terrorist tactics, and to send arms to Houthi rebels in Yemen. Iran’s human rights record has gotten even worse, judging by the surge in state executions, for example. Iran’s extra-judicial detention of several foreigners with family ties in Iran, including the seizure this month of a San Diego man, Robin Shahini, who was visiting his ailing mother, are highly provocative.

Most worrisome are Iran’s continued ballistic missile test launches. In a report this month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said they ‘are not consistent with the constructive spirit’ of the nuclear deal. The missiles have a range and throw-weight that makes them intrinsically capable of delivering nuclear weapons. There is thus a logic behind efforts in the US Congress to impose new sanctions over the missile launches.

Any new measures, however, must be applied in a way that does not violate the JCPOA clause that prohibits re-application of the sanctions that were lifted under the deal. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei claims that ‘new sanctions on any level with any excuse … will be considered a breach’ of the agreement and that Iran accordingly would break the restrictions on its nuclear programme. Concerned states must not be intimidated by this bluff. They should use sanctions judiciously when Iran has violated international norms. They should also realise, however, that most of Iran’s troubling behaviour is at the hands of conservative forces who themselves would be all too happy if the JCPOA were to fail.

As German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer put it, forces in Iran that oppose President Hassan Rouhani ‘may be tempted to undermine and to torpedo’ the JCPOA. French Ambassador to Washington Gerard Aroud, who is no softie on Iran, said in a recent interview that provocative behaviour was predictable: ‘I was expecting the Iranians to harden their position on the other issues after this nuclear deal, in a sense to show or to send a message that they have not caved in front of the West’.

‘Caving in to the West’ is a charge repeatedly laid on Rouhani by his internal critics, whose case is strengthened because Iran has yet to benefit from sanctions relief to the extent anticipated. This is not the fault of the US government, which has fully carried out the sanctions relief required of it under the JCPOA. Much of the reason Western banks remain cautious about dealing with Iran is because of the nation’s non-transparent banking practices and by the opaque nature of the involvement in the Iranian economy by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which remains under US sanctions.

The Obama administration helped Rouhani counter the charges when it facilitated a $25 billion deal for Boeing to sell 80 passenger airplanes to Iran and to lease 29 others. Legislation passed by the US House of Representatives to block the Boeing sale would appear to violate the provision of the JCPOA that commits the US to ‘allow for the sale of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services’ for ‘exclusively civil aviation end-use’. The administration insists it has the means to ensure that the airplanes are not used to ferry arms to Syria and Hezbollah. Obama would veto any such bill that came to him for signature, but the Senate did not pass similar legislation before it broke for the summer vacation.

If Iran were to use the planes for any military purpose, that surely would disrupt the JCPOA. There are many other ways the nuclear accord could still go wrong. For now, however, it is working fine.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS–Americas and head of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme. This commentary is drawn from the author’s 14 July 2016 webinar on ‘Nuclear Proliferation Success and Failure: Iran and North Korea’.

Dana H. Allin: Terror and Politics

The strategic effect of terrorism depends on the transmission mechanism of politics. It is naïve to imagine that the political norms of Western democracies will be unaffected by the ability of solitary terrorists to render public spaces insecure, which is one reason why the work of security services is a frontline defence of democratic values.

But the judgement and temperament of politicians is also critical. Last night Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, a strong Donald Trump supporter who may still be hoping to become Trump’s vice presidential running mate, reacted on Fox News to the horrific Nice attack with the following words: ‘Let me be as blunt and direct as I can be. Western civilisation is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in Sharia, they should be deported.’ Generously, Gingrich added that ‘modern Muslims who have given up Sharia’ could remain as citizens. ‘But we need to be fairly relentless about defining who our enemies are.’ Gingrich concluded, his voice dripping with disgust: ‘This is the fault of Western elites who lack the guts to do what is right, to do what is necessary, and to tell us the truth, and that starts with Barack Obama.’

Although I doubt that Gingrich has a clue what it means to ‘believe in’ or to ‘have given up Sharia’, I will concede that President Obama has repeatedly called for tolerance and re-dedication to inclusive democratic values, and so if this is the West’s fatal weakness, then Gingrich is at least consistent in offering an authoritarian alternative.  His leader Donald Trump, meanwhile, is just making things up. After a black army veteran shot and killed five Dallas policeman last week, Trump repeated in numerous venues the wholly fabricated claim that ‘somebody called for a moment of silence for this maniac that shot the five police.’ At a campaign rally in Indiana he said: ‘The other night you had 11 cities potentially in a blow-up stage. Marches all over the United States – and tough marches. Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac! And some people ask for a moment of silence for him. For the killer!’

The striking thing about this falsehood was observed by journalist Josh Marshall: earlier in the campaign, ‘everybody took note when Donald Trump repeatedly claimed that American Muslims across the river in New Jersey celebrated and cheered as the Twin Towers fell on 9/11 - an entirely fabricated claim.’ But by now the fabrications and the peddling of fear and loathing have become so normalised that it they are no longer really newsworthy.

Political demagogues have not invented the threat of jihadist terror in Europe or, for that matter, racialised violence in the United States. But these threats and the violence will not be eradicated any time soon. And if the demagogues cannot, by definition, exercise self-restraint, the challenge of preventing an unravelling of liberal values and institutions will depend on the capacity of other political leaders to assert complex appeals to resilience over the simple appeal of fear.

Dana H. Allin is the Editor of Survival, and IISS Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs.

Ben Barry: Women in combat

Last week the British Army announced that it would remove all remaining restrictions on the participation of women in ground combat. This follows the 2013 announcement of then-US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that US forces would in principle lift all restrictions on the employment of women in ground combat units. The US Army, Marine Corps and Special Operations Command (SOCOM) would have to make a special case for continuing to deny any combat roles to women. I assessed the potential implications of this move in the April May 2013 issue of Survival.

Subsequently the Army and SOCOM removed the restrictions. The Marine Corps asked to continue to exclude women from infantry roles, but was overruled. The three forces have now applied their customary determination to implementing the decision.

Concurrently, two other important glass ceilings have been shattered. Air Force General Lori J. Robinson has become the commander of US Northern Command. An air battle manager by profession, she became the first woman to head one the US armed forces' 'combatant commands'.

At the other end of the US military hierarchy, two female US Army officers successfully completed the Ranger course, one of the world's toughest selection courses for elite infantry units. Passing it requires very high levels of physical fitness, stamina and self-motivation. The two female officers who completed the course will both be eligible to serve in Ranger battalions, US SOCOM's elite infantry units.

The British have followed the US position, reflecting the initiatives of Army chief General Sir Nick Carter to maximise the potential of all the soldiers and officers in the Army and for the Army to better reflect UK society.

Moving more slowly than the Americans, the British are opening roles to women on a 'deliberate and incremental approach'. Women will initially be allowed to join tank regiments. The infantry, Royal Marines and RAF Regiment (an airfield protection force) will be opened to women in 2018. This will allow more research into preventing injuries. Sources in the British Army tell me not only that current fitness training is inflicting avoidable injuries upon too many soldiers of both sexes but also that female recruits currently experience twice the rate of injury of their male counterparts. New tests of physical fitness and stamina are to be developed.

US and British forces have both repeatedly declared that operational standards will not be reduced. Extensive research in both countries suggests that the proportion of female recruits who both meet the physical fitness demands of ground close combat will not be high. This is likely to mean that the rate of increase of females in ground combat units will be slow.

There are lessons from the introduction of women into professions, such as firefighting and police, that involve both danger and high levels of fitness and stamina. These suggest that any threats to team cohesion of mixed gender teams reduce over time. Senior leaders have a role to play, but the centre of gravity will be unit commanders and their subordinates, who will be critical to minimising unnecessary frictions, and sustaining unit cohesion.

Risk can also be reduced by introducing female leaders first, as well as achieving a critical mass of women in combat units. So it may be necessary to initially concentrate women into selected units, rather than spreading them across the whole force.

US forces should have no difficulty achieving this. The British Army has a complex regimental system that links its combat units with both historic regimental identities and recruiting areas divided amongst the nation's former counties. This may make such an approach more difficult to implement.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Who in their right mind would promote nuclear proliferation?

At a roundtable at the CATO Institute on 20 June, I was asked to speak on the subject of ‘The advisability of using proliferation to combat proliferation in Northeast Asia’. The host, Doug Bandow, has written in favour of the proposition and knew that I would speak in opposition. He got what he asked for. I hope, however, that my participation in this event did not help legitimise a terrible idea.

There are very good reasons why nearly every country in the world supports non-proliferation, and why every US administration in the post-war period, Democrat- and Republican-led alike, has opposed the spread of nuclear weapons, even to allies. Donald Trump was an extreme outlier when he took a contrary view in several interviews in March, but even he came to his senses after meeting with wiser party elders such as Senator Bob Corker.

I cannot do justice here to the volumes of official statements and shelves of academic texts promoting the virtues of non-proliferation, but below are four simple reasons why it is dangerous to encourage an American ally such as South Korea to acquire nuclear weapons to counter a nuclear-armed adversary.

For starters, it would undermine the world’s most successful treaty and likely stimulate a proliferation cascade. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has 190 adherents – more than any other arms control treaty in history. Since the NPT was signed nearly half a century ago, several of its signatories have strayed from their non-proliferation vows but only one – North Korea, on dubious legal grounds – has sought to rescind its obligations and build nuclear weapons. If Washington were to allow an ally to follow suit and pull out, it would signal US withdrawal itself from the non-proliferation norm.

For a stalwart non-proliferation proponent like South Korea to kiss the NPT goodbye would spell the end of the treaty. Other governments that face nuclear-armed adversaries, such as Vietnam and Taiwan, or that worry about neighbours going nuclear, such as Saudi Arabia vis-à-vis Iran, would rethink their own non-nuclear commitments. South Korean nuclearisation might not cause Japan also to go nuclear, but many more Japanese would begin to think they should. In the reverse case, Japanese nuclear armament almost surely would cause South Korea to want to match Japan, for psychological as much as security reasons, as I explain in my book, Asia’s Latent Nuclear Powers.

A nuclear domino phenomenon is not inevitable, but it has happened repeatedly in the nuclear age. America’s development of nuclear weapons, in partnership with the UK, made Moscow determined to have them too, and to put its spies to work to acquire nuclear secrets. The Soviet Union then shared key weapons technology with China, which shared it with Pakistan, which then allowed the technology to spread to North Korea, Iran and Libya. Because other major powers had nuclear weapons, France pursued them too, and Charles de Gaulle shared plutonium production blueprints with Israel. Israel’s presumed nuclear status prompted Egypt, Iraq, Libya, and Syria also to go down a nuclear weapons path, although, luckily for the world, none succeeded.

Secondly, additional nuclear proliferation would exacerbate a nuclear arms race. Proponents of nuclear acquisition in South Korea argue that matching North Korea weapon for weapon would give Seoul leverage and force Pyongyang to negotiate de-nuclearisation. Maybe, but the more likely outcome would be to confirm North Korea’s paranoia and cause it to put even more effort into building a larger and better nuclear arsenal. China would also have reason to accelerate its nuclear modernisation, because it would have to anticipate that a nuclear-armed South Korea would pose a new threat. Russia might be prompted to move more nuclear assets to the Northeast Asia theatre.

A third danger concerns nuclear safety and security. The more nuclear-armed states, the more potential exists for nuclear use as the result of mishap, misperception and miscalculation. Scott Sagan made this case persuasively when he went toe-to-toe with Kenneth Waltz in their debate, starting in 1995, over the relative merits and demerits of the spread of nuclear weapons. As Eric Schlosser demonstrated over and over in his blockbuster exposé, Command and Control, about nuclear near misses in America, the potential for nuclear accidents is particularly high when nations newly acquire the weapons. Today there is an additional danger of terrorist theft of nuclear weapons. For the safety of mankind, nuclear weapons need to be curtailed, not proliferated.

Fourthly, nuclear proliferation exacerbates regional tensions and instability. The gravest danger would come during the initial period of nuclear pursuit – which could not be kept secret in open societies in the day of social media – when the adversary would be tempted to launch a pre-emptive strike. If South Korea were to obtain nuclear weapons in the hope that it would cause North Korea to stand down, what would be the off-ramp if Pyongyang didn’t, as it most probably wouldn’t? The Korean peninsula would be left indefinitely in a tense state of nuclear stand-off.

Newly nuclear-armed states often engage in risk-seeking behaviour, in the expectation that the ultimate weapons will deter escalation. The stability-instability paradox, as it is called in the academic literature, played out in the case of Pakistan in the 1987 Brasstacks crisis and crises over Kashmir in 1990 and 1999. South Africa and Israel also took unnecessary risks when they assumed that nuclear arms would provide cover. Having more nuclear-armed allies would increase the risk of the US getting involved in nuclear conflicts not of its own making.

I have written elsewhere why seeking nuclear weapons would be detrimental to South Korea’s own interests, in terms of its economy, security, political cohesion and reputation. Until recently, I have not thought it necessary also to explain why it would be counter-productive for America to encourage proliferation. The case should be overwhelmingly clear.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS-Americas.

Erik Jones: A step towards disintegration

The British vote to leave the European Union (EU) is the first step toward formal disintegration that the West has experienced. The closest parallel is France’s decision to step outside the integrated military command structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1966. But France remained a member of NATO; that decision was more like Britain’s opt-out from the single currency or Schengen, even if the shift of NATO’s headquarters from Paris to Brussels made it seem more dramatic. By contrast, the British have now decided that they do not want to take part in the EU and that they want to renegotiate their relationships with the rest of the world on a case-by-case basis. The West has not gone through anything like this since the end of the Second World War.

This move toward disintegration is going to have a powerful impact on the West as a community and as a concept. Certainly it will have an impact on connections across the Atlantic. NATO will still exist, of course, and so will the special relationship shared between Britain and the United States. But what remains of the EU will have a larger population and greater resources than the UK and so it will also loom larger in US foreign policy. That will change if other countries choose to follow Britain’s example. It is not clear that will happen, but it is possible. As the EU diminishes, US disenchantment with Europe will only increase. That is a bad scenario for both sides of the Atlantic.

Another source of division will be the economic impact. Throughout the UK referendum debate, the presumption was that the economic effects for Britain will be worse than for other parts of Europe. That assumption was based primarily on the strength of trading relations; Britain depends more on access to European markets than the other way around. The relative fragility of the two sides of the Channel received less attention. Britain will experience a powerful economic shock as a result of the vote to leave Europe; those demographic groups that supported the Leave campaign are likely to suffer the most. But the rest of Europe will feel a shock as well. It will be smaller, but the European economy is also more fragile, at least at the moment. The European Central Bank has expended much of its arsenal of measures to stimulate growth and employment; Europe’s banks continue to wrestle with large volumes of non-performing loans; and the new banking recovery and resolution regime will push the cost of any failure onto the private sector. In such a context, even a small macroeconomic shock can have a disproportionate impact on economic performance and political stability.

Disintegration will have a powerful impact on globalisation as well. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was supposed to be the platform for projecting Western norms and values for manufacturing and commerce across the globe. That agenda was already running into trouble before the British referendum. Now it is unlikely to recover. That is an important opportunity that will be missed. Instead we are likely to see a Balkanisation of the rules that govern the global economy. Britain may win back some cherished privileges in such an environment, but what is more likely is that many of those rules will be created in emerging market economies where the people have different objectives and priorities.

Identity and solidarity will also be affected. This was a very emotional referendum, steeped in identity politics. That was always expected. The result will have emotional resonance across Europe and it will change European perceptions of the UK. That should be expected as well. Hopefully it will not result in some intemperate reaction. It is hard, however, to see how the UK can avoid becoming an ‘other’ for the rest of Europe. The British have always been different in an idiosyncratic and quirky way, but so have the French, the Germans, the Italians and all the rest. Formally withdrawing from Europe is a different matter. Britain will not long be just different, it will also be ‘not one of us’ for many other Europeans. Britons may be proud of that new-found distinction but it is a sad day for the West.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is a Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, and a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. He can be followed on Twitter at @Erik_Jones_SAIS. This piece is an expanded version of one originally published on the Oxford Politics blog and on Erik Jones’s personal blog.

Brexit becomes reality

In preparing the most recent issue of Survival, we asked our authors to reflect on the possibility of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union – or ‘Brexit’. At that point, it was by nearly all accounts the less likely outcome. Yesterday, the UK voted to make it a reality. There is now huge uncertainty about what the UK’s relationship with the EU will look like, and about the future shape of British politics.

In hope of shedding some light on these questions, and on the process that led to such an outcome, the links to our authors’ contributions – penned a month before Britain went to the polls – are below.

Brexit and the Law of Unintended Consequences  Lawrence Freedman

Extracting the United Kingdom from the European Union could leave both in a much weaker position.

Brexit and European Security  François Heisbourg

Europe’s troubles will impose themselves uninvited onto a post-Brexit United Kingdom, because Britain is where it is.

Brexit, Intelligence and Terrorism  Nigel Inkster

An EU that did not have the UK as a core component of its counter-terrorism and security efforts would arguably be much weaker, leaving the UK facing greater risks.

Brexit and Political Malpractice  Matthew Harries

Starting with David Cameron’s decision to promise a referendum, Britain’s politicians have contrived to make Brexit worryingly possible.

Brexit’s Lessons for Democracy  Erik Jones

The campaign has already taught us important lessons about direct democracy, European integration and political communication.

Matthew Harries: Brexit would be a badly timed blow to Western solidarity

The sky will not fall, in foreign-policy terms, if the United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union. NATO is not going anywhere, nor is the UK’s seat on the UN Security Council. But if Brexit does happen, Britain will start to find itself a little lonelier, and the West a little weaker.

The idea of alliance has been having a rough time in recent months. Its loudest critic is US presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has laid into America’s ties with Japan and South Korea, and called NATO obsolete. But in the campaign for Brexit, too, there has been an undercurrent of disdain for the idea that like-minded countries owe each other something, and that they should stick together.

When the Times columnist Melanie Phillips wrote on Tuesday that ‘no one would willingly fight and die for Brussels’, she overlooked not only that Belgium is a NATO member and Brussels hosts NATO’s headquarters, but that, as historian Lawrence Freedman pointed out, Britons have indeed fought and died for Brussels before. When Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, it did so in defence of Belgian neutrality.

David Cameron’s warning that Brexit could put European peace and stability at risk was derided in the UK press as melodramatic fear-mongering. But his basic point was that the EU is part of a 70-year project, built out of the rubble of the Second World War, to save Europe from the scourge of conflict. Cameron’s argument would have been largely uncontroversial in most European countries, and especially in Germany and France, where the importance of post-war reconciliation and a sense of common European purpose has not been forgotten.

Brexit would not, of course, be quickly followed by European war. But it would strike a cruel, and very badly timed, blow to Western solidarity. The West - loosely defined as the democracies of Europe, North America, and a handful of allies elsewhere - is at a tricky moment in its history. Non-Western, autocratic powers, China foremost among them, are challenging the liberal international order on which Western prosperity depends. Huge movements of refugees from a war-torn Middle East are straining European entry points and providing fertile ground for the re-emergence of toxic far-right political movements. Russia is testing NATO unity, and risking a dangerous military confrontation in the process.

These problems are by no means insurmountable. The West is, in material terms, strong: it accounts for a third of global GDP, and more than half of global military spending. But what these problems all share is the need for solidarity in solving them. Europe is large enough to be able to take care of even a few million refugees, but only with a plan for spreading the financial and political burden among its member states. Vladimir Putin’s threats to NATO may be primarily defensive bluster, but the more divided the Western alliance becomes, the more Russia has to work with (and while the EU is, obviously, a separate institution from NATO, its very similar membership means resentment and division built up in one forum can easily spill over to the other). The trade-offs and coordination amongst friendly countries needed to face up to these challenges will be difficult to achieve, but nonetheless crucial.

Brexit would threaten the West’s collective ability to cope with these problems in a number of ways. It would be a symbolic retreat from cooperation: a decision that the UK’s freedom of action is more important than the shared gains offered by a limited pooling of sovereignty. Brexit would also, by definition, remove British resources and influence from EU responses to Europe’s crises, from which the UK, whether it likes it or not, cannot run away. Brexit could encourage separatists in other European countries: after Britain goes, which country will be next? Moreover, governments have limited attention spans: if Europe is dealing with a series of unhappy national divorces, it will not be dealing with much else. And this is not just bad news for Europe. As ECFR analyst Jeremy Shapiro puts it, ‘a chaotic, unstable Europe would be unable (and probably unwilling) to help the US confront geopolitical challenges around the world.’

The opinion of the UK’s allies is unlikely to be high on Britons’ minds when they vote on Thursday. Understandably, voters have been preoccupied with subjects closer to home. But other countries - including friends to whom Britain owes its support - will be watching with interest to see if the UK decides its role in the European project has come to an end. A vote to stay, even a grudging one, would be welcome relief for an anxious West. As Barack Obama put it in his open letter to the British people: ‘Now is a time for friends and allies to stick together.’

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS. This article first appeared on the Huffington Post.

Erik Jones: Calling an EU referendum was a bad idea; voting to leave would be worse

The British referendum on EU membership is based on (at least) two bad ideas. The first is that the popular legitimacy of a referendum can restore the sovereignty of the British Parliament. The Leave campaign believe they can take power from Brussels and give it back to Westminster. That is a fantasy. The British Parliament will be more constrained and less effective if the UK leaves. The second bad idea is that referendums are more democratic than acts of parliament. By giving the people the chance to speak their mind on a yes-or-no (in-or-out, remain-or-leave) question, the reasoning goes, we can discover what they really want. That is not how people work. Real people prefer trial and error. Real people also like to delegate responsibility for making complicated decisions. This matters because the two bad ideas combine to make the worst of all possible worlds. Britons who vote to leave will discover that they have made a terrible mistake, only to learn that there is no easy way to fix it.

Let’s start from first principles: popular referendums do not protect parliamentary sovereignty – they usurp it. When David Cameron announced his intention to hold an in-or-out referendum, he made it clear that the goal was for the British people to have their say and finish the debate. What that means in principle is that future parliaments should not revisit the matter. The people will have spoken and so parliament’s hands are tied. The fact that the people elect members of parliament does not trump the voice of the people themselves. The fact that many of ‘the people’ will soon pass on to the next life, and so leave this constraint on future generations who haven’t yet learned to talk, doesn’t matter either. As if to underscore this point, David Cameron tried to win concessions from Europe that would be similarly permanent. Britain’s opt-out from the European goal of an ‘ever closer union’ is ‘irrevocable’, for example. Future parliaments should not revisit that issue either. This whole debate has made the scope for parliamentary action narrower and not wider. Current politicians have tricked the people into usurping the sovereignty of Westminster.

Nothing that has been agreed about Europe by past British parliaments is irrevocably binding – or meant to be so. The same is true for every other country participating in the European project. If you needed any reassurance on that point, just look at how much attention the current referendum is getting elsewhere. Other European leaders know that the British government can take the United Kingdom out of the EU. So does the United States government, as President Barack Obama made clear during his recent visit. None of these political leaders thinks it would be a good idea for the UK to leave Europe, but they all respect that it is within the power of the British government to do so. The same is not true for an American state. Those states exercise sovereignty – and some, like Texas, flirt at times with secessionist rhetoric – but they are not sovereign in the same way that the United Kingdom is as an EU member state.

The notion of ‘membership’ is important in that respect. Short of expulsion, membership is largely a self-enforcing activity. When the British legal system enforces European rules, they do so on the basis of British legal commitments made by Westminster and not as the agents of some higher power. There is no European enforcement mechanism that can override British institutions. And if British institutions choose to ignore European legal requirements there is little that the European Union can do about it. The EU could threaten to expel Britain in order to bend the British government to its will, but only the British government can decide whether and how to respond to that threat. If the recent example of Poland is any illustration, then expulsion – from the room and not even from the Union – is unlikely to happen.

My point is not that national governments can and should ignore their European commitments. Rather it is that commitment to Europe is an act of self-interest rather than the result of some kind of enforcement. In that sense, the threat of expulsion is not only unlikely but also unnecessary (although some observers of democratic backsliding in some of the newer member states are likely to disagree with me on this point). Most governments accept the judgements of the European institutions. They may not like the specific decision, but they respect that some institution has to render judgement when there is disagreement over whether there are rules in a given situation, what the rules mean, and how they should be implemented. David Cameron conceded this point explicitly in his Bloomberg speech. The European Union does not constrain British sovereignty; British institutions exercise sovereignty to work within European constraints.

This self-restraint is rational insofar as participation in European institutions makes parliamentary activity more effective. No doubt many Members of British Parliament will argue that is not the case. They will also complain that some enormous percentage of British laws are drafted in Brussels and not at Westminster. And they will highlight one or two key areas where they would do things differently if freed from European constraints. There is a complicated subterfuge in this line of argument that needs to be unpacked to be considered. Let me do that in four steps.

First, the real effect of the Leave campaign would be to overturn past parliamentary decisions. Successive British parliaments have delegated rule-making authority to European institutions in which they have also demanded representation. Successive British parliaments have also participated in a series of sweeping reforms to the procedures for how those European institutions make rules. And successive British parliaments have converted European rules into national legislation. At each step along the way, opponents of Europe have had the opportunity to protest both inside and outside the Houses of Parliament. Sometimes those opponents of Europe have won concessions and sometimes they have blocked change. Participation in the euro and the Schengen area are two examples. Sometimes, however, those opponents of Europe have either failed to influence the conversation or they have had little real reason to complain. In this category we might put much of the single European market. So the difference between the world we live in today and a world without Europe boils down to those policy areas where opponents of Europe wanted to do something different and yet failed to sway a majority of the British Parliament. Now they want to reverse those defeats.

Second, many of those decisions would have come out similarly – at least in broad terms – even without European integration. Remember, both the Schengen area and the euro are off the table. So the focus is on the single market. All markets have regulations and most market regulations are the result of competition across jurisdictions. Moreover, the British government is involved in a large number of international organisations that share ‘best practice’ for how markets should be regulated, how different regulations interact, and how much it costs to do business across different regulatory jurisdictions. This is the information that policymakers use to ‘modernise’ the rules that define the domestic marketplace. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected through market activity, that modernisation involves increasing amounts of information gathered from the experience of other countries and filtered through international forums like the European Union. The Leave campaign is quick to admit that practice will not change if the UK were to leave the EU. That is much the same as admitting that a lot of the actions of the British Parliament would start outside of London even if the EU did not exist. The question is whether those actions would have been as effective in representing the British national interest.

Third, smaller markets have to accept the rules set by larger markets if they do not want to put their firms at a competitive disadvantage. Here you might think of weights and measures. There was a time when every market town had a town hall that provided examples of the standard weights and measures that applied for lawful transactions. That kind of local idiosyncrasy was one of the first victims of market integration. Every market town also had its own time that pivoted around the sun’s apex at noon. That kind of idiosyncrasy has disappeared as well. Of course, there are some holdouts. The United States still uses a form of imperial weights and measures and North Korea recently introduced its own time zone, setting the country’s clocks back by thirty minutes. Most of the rest of the world makes do with the metric system and time zones set at hourly increments and centred on Greenwich. If you dig into the details, moreover, you will see that a lot of market regulations and voluntary industrial standards show the same pattern of convergence. Moreover, the pattern is set by the largest markets and not necessarily the cleverest regulators or standard setters (unless some clever innovation is quickly adapted by a large market). This means that any good British regulatory innovation is likely to be expensive for British firms unless the British government can find some way to win allies for its wider adoption. It also means that a lot of British regulation is going to be determined by the relative costs of doing business.

Fourth, the best situation from a regulatory perspective is to have a large market for innovation and competition and to use that large market to build a coherent regulatory framework to achieve two complementary objectives: policymakers want to adopt the best regulations given current practice and they want to adapt to the best regulations that emerge in the future. That challenge is best met through international cooperation because almost no regulatory jurisdiction is big enough, innovative enough, and flexible enough to do everything on its own. Moreover, this is as true for the United States as it is for the European Union. That is why governments on both sides of the Atlantic pushed for a transatlantic trade and investment partnership. They knew that this kind of regulatory cooperation would be more challenging than a standard trade agreement. The current controversy over the agreement is less of a surprise than many pretend. But policymakers also saw that some kind of transatlantic trade and investment partnership is the only way to get what you want from market regulations in an increasingly integration global economy. The Leave campaign wants to move in exactly the opposite direction. That result will be to force the British Parliament into accepting rules made elsewhere without any input from the United Kingdom or to abandon the goal of national competitiveness.

If you add this all together, the Leave campaign will constrain the sovereignty of Westminster, it will overturn regulatory decisions that eurosceptics already fought in parliament and lost, it will rob the parliament of influence, and it will threaten the competitiveness of British firms. By contrast, the Remain campaign will promote the British interest by placing trust in elected representatives to work with Britain’s closest allies in order to project shared values across a global market. That is the choice Britons face and yet it is not a choice they should have to make.

Instead, they should vote to remain in the EU and to give responsibility for European policy to members of parliament and government. Then they should vote – not just once, but every five years – to hold those politicians to account for their actions. In other words, by choosing to remain, the British people should make a clear choice for representative democracy. This way Britons can not only preserve the sovereignty of Westminster but they can also make sure that parliament remains responsive to the needs of future generations. Most important, they can ensure that the British people can benefit from the best market regulations that the world has to offer (rather than forcing their politicians to invent everything on their own).

The choice is simple. Leave means anachronism, idiosyncrasy and ineffectiveness; remain means accountability, sovereignty and progress. Once you strip out all the bad ideas at the heart of the Leave campaign, it hardly looks like a choice at all.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is a Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, and a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. He can be followed on Twitter at @Erik_Jones_SAIS. This article originally appeared on Erik Jones’s personal blog.

Jonathan Stevenson: The Orlando massacre was less than, and more than, terrorism

On 12 June, Omar Mateen – an Afghan-American Muslim born in the United States, who was on US law enforcement’s radar but not judged to warrant further investigation – slaughtered 49 people and wounded dozens more with a semi-automatic assault rifle and a nine-millimetre pistol at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Because he had posted jihadist threats on Facebook and called the police emergency number to proclaim his allegiance to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) immediately prior to the attack, many – including presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and several Republican lawmakers – have cast the event as an ISIS terrorist operation. But Mateen’s background – ostracisation and abuse during childhood, frustration as an adult, spousal abuse – is typical of a psychopathic mass killer, not a terrorist true believer or even a tactical collaborator. Indeed, CIA Director John Brennan has said that the Agency has found no links between Mateen and ISIS.

It's not entirely surprising that an enraged homophobe would cloak himself in ISIS's religious and ideological garb. Terrorist groups have always attracted criminal psychopaths who seek a noble-sounding cause as cover for senselessly violent impulses and an avenue for indulging them, and even true believers may have found the instrumentalisation of such people useful, up to a point. One vivid example from the annals of ‘old’ terrorism was the Shankill Butchers, a gang of serial killers led by Lenny Murphy, a member of the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in Belfast, who used the Northern Irish ‘troubles’ as a pretext for wanton, grisly murder of victims thought to be Catholics in the late 1970s and early 1980s. For a while the Butchers made the UVF seem extra fearsome, but eventually the group came to realise that Murphy was bad for its image, and facilitated his execution at the hands of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). The IRA also came to recognise that vicious, purely sectarian killings of Protestants hurt its reputation, and increasingly forbade them. In the mid-2000s, even Osama bin Laden became concerned that al-Qaeda in Iraq’s rampant and lurid killing of Shia Muslims under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was damaging al-Qaeda’s brand.

The popular supporters of ethno-nationalist terrorist groups operating in the areas where those supporters reside generally pressure the groups to police themselves, and limit the potential for uncontrollable murderers to enter their ranks and kill for personal reasons with the spurious cover of a political cause. But ISIS’s global, indiscriminate and opportunistic approach to terrorism is not susceptible to this constraint. Its rising losses in Iraq and Syria merely increase its incentive to encourage out-of-area attacks as a means of offsetting perceptions of its disempowerment. Jihadists’ established taste for mass-casualty violence and their expansive definition of a legitimate target – namely, anyone considered religiously impure – afford maximum flexibility to those seeking ideological affirmation for venting personal rage. This explains ISIS’s eager post-hoc embrace of Mateen and endorsement of his act despite the absence of any operational connection with the man. Even if some jihadist VIPs were to conclude that ISIS’s imprimatur was being appropriated too liberally, the organisation’s very lack of access to the United States would make it difficult for it to effectively cull its extended ranks of home-grown psychopaths like Mateen.

These factors make the burden on law-enforcement and intelligence agencies all the greater. Given the large number of potential lone-wolf criminals in the United States and elsewhere looking to dignify their rage, unless the FBI and other agencies ignored obvious and actionable signs of Mateen's terrorist intent, they can’t be blamed for the Orlando attack. It’s certainly not lost on law enforcement and intelligence services in the United States or elsewhere that terrorist groups may attract non-ideological criminals. But the only policy shifts that would have a chance of substantially reducing the fatal risks of attacks like the ones in Orlando would be tighter gun control and the relaxation of constitutional protections of individual civil rights. 

Both types of measures would face significant legislative and political hurdles. Constitutionally, though, the prevailing absolutist reading of the second amendment’s right to bear arms is more vulnerable than, say, the right to protection against unreasonable searches – especially given the inhibiting effect that the Snowden revelations have had on government surveillance and the preposterously inordinate level of gun violence in the United States. Politically, the Orlando horror only amplifies the dubiousness of that absolutist reading.

To be sure, after the Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut in 2012, the Obama administration’s strenuous efforts to enact tougher gun-control measures came to nothing thanks largely, and as usual, to the National Rifle Association. But on 16 June, a 15-hour filibuster by Senator Chris Murphy, joined by 38 other Senate Democrats, culminated in the majority Republicans’ allowance of votes on two such measures – one to ban people on the government's terrorist watch list from obtaining gun licenses, the other to expand background checks to gun shows and internet sales. They weren’t likely to pass, but the salutary energy of the filibuster induced moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins, hoping to avoid ‘Groundhog Day’, to propose a compromise. The façade of gun ownership’s unalloyed constitutionality may be weakening. Even small changes could disproportionately reduce gun violence – by terrorists and non-ideological criminals alike.

Jonathan Stevenson is IISS Senior Fellow for US Defence and Editor of Strategic Comments.

Massimo Franco: The authoritarian revival challenging Pax Americana

[Ed. note: The following is a translated extract from 'Quella rinascita autoritaria che rilegge la pax americana', an article by frequent Survival contributor Massimo Franco in the Corriere della Sera.]

... According to Michael Boyle, Senior Fellow at Philadelphia’s Foreign Policy Research Institute, these are the first signs of the ‘coming illiberal order’: a model that rejects democratic principles as we know them. In his recent essay in Survival, the IISS journal, Michael Boyle claims that populist parties threaten sovereign nations, but there is an even more worrying aspect of such a crisis. The new authoritarian ‘faith’ might also destabilise and weaken international institutions. Michael Boyle fears ‘a rejection (…) of the international order built by the United States at the end of the Second World War. Far more than is often realised, the domestic and international fortunes of liberalism are interlinked.’

Essentially, over the last decades, the institutions that tried to establish an international order mirrored the systems which had promoted them. The architects of the United Nations, founded in San Francisco in 1945, under the lead of Harry Truman, ‘imported’ part of the American democratic system. But now we see a multipolar world, which Vladimir Putin was already talking about in 2007, that implies the decline of European and Western principles. There is a competition between two systems of values. This assault on liberalism has been helped by the mistakes of the West, led by the United States. The illiberal model is imported from the non-democratic and non-Western world.

Donald Trump

The Donald Trump phenomenon, for its part, is a byproduct of the limits of Barack Obama’s administration, and of Republican radicalisation. As Michael Boyle points out, European turmoil seems bound to restore an order which had remained latent for a long time, rather than to create a new one. This makes international alliances more volatile and interchangeable: in practice, more unstable. For the United States, particularly, this growing ambiguity is an unwanted change in comparison to the stability of the Cold War. Europe, with its contradictions and, most of all, its nationalisms, is becoming a laboratory of the illiberal order and of the ‘authoritarian resurgence’...

Read the full article (in Italian) here.

Massimo Franco is a political columnist for the leading Italian daily Corriere della Sera. He is the author of The Crisis in the Vatican Empire (Mondadori, 2013) and The Vatican According to Francis: From Buenos Aires to Santa Marta (Mondador, 2014). His most recent Survival article is 'A Latin American Pope in the United States', Survival, vol. 57, no. 6, December 2015–January 2016.

Mark Fitzpatrick: India is kept waiting for admission to Nuclear Suppliers Group

India’s understandable quest for membership in export-control clubs that it used to deride as discriminatory cartels has met with mixed success of late. On 6 June, India passed the final test for admission to the 34-member Missile Technology Control Regime.  Later that week in Vienna, the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) failed to reach consensus on India’s membership application.

In the latter case, the formal decision will await the NSG plenary meeting in Seoul on 23–24 June. The working-level meeting in Vienna was an opportunity to gauge members’ inclinations, which proved to be less accommodating than India had hoped. China’s objections pose the greatest hurdle unless its ally Pakistan is also admitted. But up to eight other states signalled reservations as well.

Some of those who raised questions in Vienna had indicated that they would go along with Indian membership. Their support is not unconditional, however. Some of them want to leverage their vote for national advantage. Others want any decision on Indian admission to be based on non-proliferation criteria, rather than a special exception. They seek a decision-making process that would strengthen non-proliferation rules and allow for Pakistan also to qualify for NSG membership in the future. Otherwise, granting India membership now would give it a veto over Pakistan’s similar desire for admission to the consensus-based group.

India already won a significant concession in 2008 when, under US pressure, the NSG agreed to an exception to its guidelines against nuclear cooperation with non-parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In line with the burgeoning US–India strategic partnership, Washington is again lobbying on New Delhi’s behalf. 

I happened to be in Vienna at the time of the working-level NSG meeting there, and spoke with several diplomats from countries that had reservations about Indian membership. One asked me if Washington was really intent on India joining the group or if it was simply going through the motions. I expect that there are US bureaucrats in the trenches who find it unseemly to promote Indian membership in an organisation that was formed in 1974 because of India’s exploitation of civil nuclear cooperation to obtain plutonium for its nuclear explosion that year. Orders from the top, however, are unqualified. Support for Indian NSG membership was again promised during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s well-received visit to Washington on 7 June. Senior US officials will be engaging in serious arm-twisting in the run-up to the Seoul plenary to try to make it happen.

No matter the priority Washington attaches to lobbying on India’s behalf, however, it is unlikely to be able to persuade China to again give India a free pass in the NSG, as it did in 2008. Back then, China–US relations were not riven by contentious disputes over the South China Sea, missile defence for South Korea and other matters. To support New Delhi’s membership application today, Beijing would demand a significant price that Washington is unlikely to want to pay. But there is a price that India could pay.

As I see it, the only way for India to be admitted to the NSG is for members to agree on a criteria-based process that would preserve Pakistan’s prospects for future admission. India’s membership should not be tied to Pakistan’s per se. The days of South Asian hyphenation should be long gone. And Pakistan’s poor record of nuclear stewardship before and after the turn of the century – allowing Abdul Qadir Khan to peddle nuclear-weapons technology to three states – is too recent a memory for many states.

There are ways for Pakistan to overcome the lingering approbation, including, as a starter, lifting its veto over multilateral negotiations in Geneva on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. NSG membership criteria – for both India and Pakistan, as well as for Israel, which for the moment is keeping to the side lines – should also include non-proliferation and disarmament practices such as signing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and reducing nuclear and missile arsenals.

In reporting on the Vienna NSG meeting, I sparked a bit of a Twitter storm in South Asia. Many of my Pakistani followers expressed delight at the impediment to India’s aspirations, while several Indian respondents voiced ill-concealed contempt for the equivalency claims by their neighbours to the west. Keeping the NSG club from becoming ensnarled in such animosity may be another reason for NSG members to think twice about relaxing the admission standards.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS-Americas.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Opposing nuclear proliferation, even among allies

While working on my recently published book on Asia’s Latent Nuclear Powers, I never imagined that a US presidential candidate would argue with its central thesis about the inadvisability of America’s partners in the region pursuing nuclear weapons. For Japan, South Korea or Taiwan to go down that path would trigger huge economic losses, yawning security vulnerabilities and a steep fall from grace in the eyes of the world. Fortunately, they have no need to consider incurring such costs as long as they can rely on America’s extended deterrence, including its nuclear umbrella.

The key condition for the democracies of Northeast Asia to remain non-nuclear-armed is the credibility of the US defence commitment (or implied commitment, in Taiwan’s case). Perceptions, in this regard, are just as important as capabilities – and neither should be doubted, I contended in my book. I also noted the danger to US credibility of suggesting, for whatever reason, that its allies might have reason to seek a nuclear option of their own. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I quoted Japanese nuclear expert Katsuhisa Furukawa’s assessment that ‘Washington’s tacit or open approval’ would be the most significant factor in fostering a Japanese decision to develop a nuclear capability.

Just weeks after the publication of my book, however, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said in a series of interviews (with the New York Times, CNN and Fox News) that it would be better if Japan and South Korea had nuclear weapons to defend themselves against North Korea. It was a mind-boggling departure from more than 60 years of consistent US policy, followed by every Democratic and Republican administration in the nuclear age. A poll last year by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 78% of Republicans and 73% of Democrats ranked ‘preventing the spread of nuclear weapons’ as a top foreign policy goal. Trump’s contrarian position was repudiated by every responsible Asian government. But the wingnuts on the fringes of politics in Japan who want a nuclear weapon suddenly had a new hero.  

Trump’s top foreign-policy adviser, Senator Jeff Sessions, later claimed Trump made the suggestion only as a ‘negotiating point’ to persuade allies to pay more for the US troop presence (not knowing how much they already pay). Trump himself falsely claimed on 1 June that he had never said he wanted Japan to arm itself with nuclear weapons. The next day, Politifact, a fact-checking media outlet, parsed the record and judged that he was wrong. Given Trump’s monosyllabic, staccato speaking style, it can be hard to pin down a coherent declarative statement, but on this subject there was no doubt about his meaning.

In a 2 June national-security address outlining the stark contrast between her positive vision of America and Trump’s view of his country in decline, Hillary Clinton took her presumptive opponent to task for his many ill-considered positions. (As the headline of one Republican foreign-policy expert’s supportive analysis said, she ‘beat him to a pulp’.) 

Among the many differences is Clinton’s belief in strong alliances. She noted how, as Secretary of State, she worked with Japan and South Korea on a missile-defence system that is now ready to shoot down any North Korean warhead that Pyongyang might be reckless enough to launch. If, as Clinton said, the debate comes down to keeping these alliances strong or cutting them off, there is no doubting which is the better course.

Joint missile defences, coordinated financial pressure, fact-based analysis and a synergistic employment of diplomatic and military levers is the way to deal with nuclear threats, not multiplying the potential dangers by encouraging nuclear proliferation.  

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS-Americas.

Mark Fitzpatrick: An overdue presidential visit to Hiroshima

When Gerald Ford became the first sitting US president to visit Japan, in 1974, I regretted that he did not include Hiroshima on his itinerary. Every US president thereafter travelled to Japan, but until now none has gone to the site of the first dropping of the atomic bomb.

The purpose of President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima on 27 May is not to apologise for the A-bomb, but to recognise the utter destructiveness of nuclear weapons, reduce nuclear dangers and reaffirm the quest for a nuclear-weapons-free future.

To visit Hiroshima is to understand the horror of nuclear war. Discussions of nuclear use are too often divorced from the human consequences. It was chilling to read the results of a public-opinion poll of Americans last year in which 59% of respondents approved of a massive nuclear attack on an Iranian city in the event of US–Iran war. Even worse, 40% preferred dropping the bomb to accepting a negotiated peace.

I expect that few of those polled had been to Hiroshima, or read John Hersey’s seminal book by that name, recounting the experience of six survivors.

For me, visiting Hiroshima as a teenager had a profound impact. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, with its photos and personal artefacts attesting to the devastation of the blast, left me speechless. The non-accusatory nature of the displays also left me hopeful, however, about mankind’s ability to turn tragedy into hope for a better future.

The cenotaph for the victims at Hiroshima carries a memorable epitaph: ‘Yasurakani nemutte kudasai; ayamachi wa kurikaeshimasenu kara’, sometimes translated as ‘Please rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the error’. In the Japanese version, the subject of who erred is omitted, as is common in that language, although the author of the inscription later added an explanation that ‘we’ refers to ‘all humanity’, and that the ‘error’ is the ‘evil of war’.

The more visitors to Hiroshima there are, the deeper into our collective consciousness that message will sink in. Not everybody gets the point, though. At a review conference for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty last year, and again at the United Nations, China blocked a call for world leaders to visit Hiroshima. Beijing’s crude message was that Japan should not be characterised as a victim of a war that it started. Some Chinese go so far as to say that Japan deserved to suffer atomic attack, drawing a moral equivalence between it and the Nanjing Massacre and other Japanese wartime atrocities.

Yes, it would be good for a Japanese leader to go to Nanjing and to Pearl Harbor – not in response to demands for atonement, but proactively, for reconciliation. Visits that acknowledge history, affirm the evil of war and proclaim the imperative of peace are of value in their own right, not as a quid pro quo for an American president’s visit to Hiroshima.

As a student in Japan, I studied the decision by a former US president to drop the bomb and how Japanese thought about it years after. In an unprecedented press conference in 1975, Emperor Showa, expressing deep regret for the bombing and sympathy for the citizens of Hiroshima, said that ‘it couldn't be helped because that happened in wartime’.

My Japanese student friends disagreed, as do several historians. In July 1945, Japan was already seeking surrender terms. The obstacle to accepting America’s demand for ‘unconditional surrender’ was a desire to preserve the role of the emperor. In fact, his role was preserved after the war, but without divine rights. Had peace negotiations taken place, that outcome might have been possible and use of the bomb avoided. Moreover, the Soviet Union's declaration of war on Japan on 8 August 1945 was itself a shock that played heavily into Japan’s surrender decision, more so, some historians say (as in this recent commentary), than the two atomic bombs.

Counterfactual histories can make for endless debate. Although General Dwight D. Eisenhower afterwards wrote that dropping the bomb was ‘completely unnecessary’, none of President Harry Truman’s advisers argued against it at the time. They were convinced of the need, in order to end the war without need for an invasion of the Japanese homeland that would have cost many more lives than were lost in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For weeks ahead of time it was assumed that when the bomb was ready, it would be used if the war was still raging. Truman’s decision was hardly a decision at all, but rather the natural culmination of the Manhattan Project.

Unable to place ourselves in Truman’s shoes, it is impossible to judge in hindsight that he was wrong. What we do know is that nuclear weapons have not been used in war since those fateful days in August 1945. Use of the bomb has become an informal taboo. Obama’s words in Hiroshima will strengthen the moral constraint. That is why he is right to go.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS-Americas.

Mark Fitzpatrick: On Ben Rhodes and ‘selling’ the Iran deal

Among the many inaccuracies in the New York Times Magazine profile of Ben Rhodes was the claim by writer David Samuels that the essence of what became the Iran nuclear deal was worked out between the White House and Iran while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was still in power in early 2013. Samuels says the deal was sold to the American public and Congress as having been made possible only once the reform-minded Hassan Rouhani was elected in June that year. To wit, Rhodes had purposely constructed a false narrative about the Iran deal and sold it with the help of an ‘echo chamber’ in the arms control community and media.

Samuels’s claim of falsehood, however, is itself transparently false. For somebody who has been sniping at US–Iranian nuclear diplomacy for some time, he is curiously misinformed about the actual history. As the writer himself acknowledges, President Barack Obama had been making clear since before he took office his desire to engage with Iran, and he reached out repeatedly to the Iranian leadership, including via still secret letters to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Official meetings involving Russia, China and America’s European partners got nowhere, however, until secret bilateral talks began in July 2012; they did not produce results until a year later. So it is hard to understand how Samuels can argue that the White House put forward a manufactured story that it began seriously engaging in 2013 ‘in order to take advantage of a new political reality in Iran’. Yes, the engagement got serious in mid-2013, and yes, it was because of a new seriousness of purpose on the Iranian side under Rouhani. What is surprising, or devious, about this?

Details about the initial rounds of the secret negotiations in 2012 and early 2013 are still hazy. Until now, the public has known only that expectations were kept low and that the Iranians focused mainly on the logistics for setting up higher-level talks, as reported by the Associated Press in November 2013. White House Iran advisor Puneet Talwar told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the next month that when the two sides met in March 2013, ‘the Iranians could not move forward with the talks at that point’. He added that the back-channel talks gained traction after Rouhani’s election and an exchange of letters in August between the two presidents.

At the March 2013 meeting in Oman, the US team conveyed in general terms Obama’s willingness to accept limited enrichment by Iran. But, as confirmed to me by one participant, no proposal was tabled and no answer was forthcoming until after Rouhani was elected. While Ahmadinejad’s team was willing to engage, and to agree to the logistics of a two-step process involving first an interim agreement and later a final agreement, they were not willing to accept the strict limits that were necessary for the Obama White House to accept a deal. Samuels’s claim that Secretary of State John Kerry and Under Secretary Wendy Sherman engaged in formal negotiations with Iran only ‘to ratify details of a framework that had already been agreed upon’ does not pass the laugh test. Samuels may think that getting from an agreement on the structure of a deal to an agreement on the deal’s contents is a mere formality. He is mistaken.

Samuels’s related claim that Rhodes and his team created ‘cheerleaders’ in the arms control community and press corps to sell the Iran policy is similarly tendentious. Many experts had been arguing for allowing some degree of enrichment before this became US policy. I made this argument in February, 2013, for example, and not because I was put up to it by the White House but because I am an independent analyst and I believe it my duty to contribute to the public debate. (And as much as I would like to think of myself as, in Samuels’s words, ‘freshly minted’, I have been in circulation for some time.)

Samuels is certainly correct in noting that the Iran deal is central to the administration’s foreign-policy aims and priorities. The accord is also central to the critique that Obama’s political opponents offer to his policy. It is thus no surprise that every aspect of the accord continues to provide material for dispute. The focus of policy debate, however, should now be on how to ensure faithful implementation of the deal so that Iran’s paths to a nuclear weapon remain blocked, while opportunities are explored to address other areas of contention with Tehran.       

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS-Americas. He came to IISS in 2005 after 26 years in the US Department of State, serving lastly as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Non-proliferation (Acting).

Dana H. Allin: Trump is really happening

Donald Trump will be the 2016 Republican nominee for president. Just typing those words induces vertigo. I find myself, like many writers, struggling to express the magnitude of this surreal moment in American history. ‘The degree to which, by changing the Republican Party, he will also permanently deform American politics can only be speculated upon,’ writes Slate magazine’s Isaac Chotiner, ‘but his primary victory will, decades from now, likely be seen as one of the defining events of 21st-century America.’ Andrew Sullivan in New York magazine begins with a passage from Plato’s Republic on why democracy leads smoothly to tyranny, and concludes that ‘In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It is long past time we started treating him as such.’

The title of this blog is ‘Politics and Strategy,’ and the entanglement of the two, though clear enough already, is more perfectly illustrated by the Trump ascendance. For as long as I’ve been a scholar of transatlantic relations, United States diplomats and analysts have been strategically concerned with the eruptions of right-wing nationalist parties among European allies. Last month, Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party won the most votes in the first-round voting for Austrian president. He faces a run-off against the Greens’ Alexander van der Bellen this month. In the past this kind of development has stirred anxious and even outraged reaction from the US. Right now that reaction would be ridiculous. While Hillary Clinton will very probably defeat Trump decisively in November, it will be rather difficult for Americans to point to the upcoming campaign as a civics lesson for the rest of the world.

The current issue of Survival contains my Closing Argument, ‘Donald Trump’s America’ I don’t think it is his America in the sense of a country transformed and contorted by authoritarian and bigoted appeals. On the contrary, at one level what we are seeing is a rear-guard reaction against the palpable transformation of the country towards diversity, openness and, for lack of a better word, liberalism. Nor do I think he will be elected president of the US. But it is Donald Trump’s America in the tautological sense that Trump has been the main story of the 2016 primary campaign, and his success so far must tell us something about the state of the nation. It will take some time to figure out what that is.

Dana H. Allin is the Editor of Survival, and IISS Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Overcoming hurdles in implementing the Iran nuclear deal

Nine months after the nuclear deal with Iran was struck, last July, and three months after it went into force, in January, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is proving its worth. Iran is keeping to the agreed limits on its uranium enrichment and other nuclear technologies, in exchange for which it is benefiting from sanctions relief. Both Iran and its Western antagonists blame the other side, however, for dishonouring the spirit of the agreement. As troubling as these claims are, they point to the potential for new diplomatic initiatives to address respective concerns.

Iranian popular support for the deal was evident in the February 2016 parliamentary elections, in which voters decisively rejected hardliners. It would be wrong to characterise the results as a victory by ‘moderates’ since almost all of the candidates from the reformist camp were excluded from running. But victory by supporters of President Hassan Rouhani in a majority of the seats demonstrated that Iranian citizens appreciate his pragmatic approach to foreign policy and his emphasis on improving the economy. The election also showed that the JCPOA had broader impact beyond the technical details of the accord.

Iran is certainly benefiting from the relaxation of sanctions. Oil sales have increased, now up to about 1.65 million barrels per day, from 1 million bpd before the deal, mostly as a result of regaining market share in Europe and India. Formerly blacklisted Iranian banks are now reconnected to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). Inflation is down to around 12% (compared to over 40% in mid-2013). A majority of Iranians polled now say economic conditions getting better.

The economic boost, however, is not nearly as big as Iran anticipated or as US opponents of the deal feared. The US Treasury calculated that Iranian assets unfrozen by the deal would amount to about $55 billion – not the $150bn estimate often cited by Republican presidential candidates (who also fail to appreciate that the money in question has always belonged to Iran; the US is not ‘giving’ Iran anything). Secretary of State John Kerry said on 19 April that Iran has so far only received $3bn of this amount.

Reinforcing the complaints of other Iranian officials, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in a speech celebrating Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, claimed that ‘the Americans have not acted on their promises and only removed the sanctions on paper’. He referred to sanctions 28 times in the speech, saying: ‘Today, in all Western countries and in all those countries that are under their influence, our banking transactions have been blocked. We have a problem bringing our wealth – which has been kept in their banks – back to the country … The US Department of the Treasury acts in a way that big companies, agencies and banks do not dare to approach the Islamic Republic and have business transactions with it.’

Khamenei got it wrong. The US Treasury actually has issued general licenses that go beyond the JCPOA. A general license issued in late March, for example, permits contingent contracts for the export or re-export to Iran by US persons of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services.

It is true, however, that after years of keeping Iran at arm’s length, Western banks are reluctant to re-engage. Waiting to see how circumstances evolve, none of them want to be among the first bank back in – nor the second, third or even fourth, said a sanctions expert at an IISS workshop in January. Waiting to be fifth back in is equivalent to waiting for Godot.

As an American economist Patrick Clawson put it, major European banks have been subject to billions in US fines for poor enforcement of sanctions and regulations concerning anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism, and for other deceptive practices. They have therefore ‘adopted a “de-risking” strategy predicated on leaving markets where they judge the risk of violating rules – inadvertently or not – is too high to be worth the limited returns.’

It would be wrong to claim that this is the fault of the US government. Clawson cited other experts who described Iranian banks as being heavily politicised, non-transparent and reflective of Iran’s rampant corruption. Iran’s anti-money laundering deficiencies have earned it a designation by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force as a ‘high risk jurisdiction’. In dealing with Iran, foreign banks accordingly must exercise enhanced due diligence, which is costly and potentially time-consuming. Moreover, to avoid US sanctions that still apply to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), foreign firms and banks that seek to do business with Iran must ensure that their partners do not include the IRGC, which very often disguises its business ties.

One other problem facing foreign firms seeking to do business with Iran is the difficulty of conducting transactions in US dollars. Such transactions are not prohibited per se, but transactions with Iran through the US banking system are. It is possible, but cumbersome, to make dollar-denominated deals without coming through US banks.

Media reports in early April suggested that the White House was considering easing restrictions on the use of US dollars in trade with Iran. President Barack Obama himself denied speculation that the rules would be changed. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew later clarified that ‘U-turn transactions’ with Iran would remain prohibited. U-turn transactions, in which dollar deals are cleared through a US financial institution, were banned in 2008.

During the negotiations that produced the JCPOA, consideration was given to removing this ban, but Iran did not fight hard enough for this condition or offer enough in return. It now will not be given up ‘for free’. But the US Treasury is trying to help banks understand what they can and cannot do, and in this way facilitate legitimate business with Iran. Although the Treasury and the State Department have had some differences about how far to go in this regard, clarity is expected soon.

In Iran, the bureaucratic divisions are far greater. Hardliners who retain control of most key power centres are making trouble for Rouhani and for the JCPOA. While they are creating trouble in various ways, the most provocative is the stepped-up tempo of ballistic-missile development. The launches in October and November of the Emad and Ghadr systems clearly violated the UN Security Council resolutions in place at the time, which prohibited testing of missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Iran’s cooperation with North Korea also violated sanctions on North Korea. According to the US government, Iran bought components from the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation and sent technicians to North Korea to jointly work on the development of an 80-tonne rocket booster.

Later missile tests in March did not explicitly violate UNSC Resolution 2231, which replaced the previous restrictions. The Qiam and Qadr (modified Scud C and Shahab-3) systems that were tested that month can travel further than 300 kilometres and carry payloads greater than 500 kilograms, which makes them nuclear-capable under commonly accepted guidelines of the Missile Technology Control Regime. But rather than continuing the mandate on no ballistic missile launches, Resolution 2231 only ‘called upon’ Iran not to conduct launches using technology of ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. In condemning the launches, France, Germany, the UK and the US thus did not claim they violated Resolution 2231, only that the launches were ‘inconsistent with’ the resolution and ‘in defiance of’ it.

Regardless of the launches’ legality, it was outrageously provocative for the IRGC to claim the systems were designed to hit the ‘Zionist enemy’, and to daub on the tested missile body the slogan in Hebrew ‘Israel should be wiped from the pages of history’.

Such behaviour cannot help but be met by a strong reaction by the US Congress, where moves are afoot to impose new sanctions on Iran and to extend the Iran Sanctions Act beyond 2016, when it would otherwise expire. Some members of Congress have made it clear that they want to recreate the pre-JCPOA sanctions on broad sections of the Iranian economy. Obama will veto any such legislation that would prevent the US from implementing the deal, and he continues to have the votes to sustain a veto. Other legislators are considering a more moderate set of sanctions that would not give Iran grounds for claiming abrogation of the accord, but which would add to the political burdens placed on it.

One way to address the missile issue would be to start a new set of negotiations to persuade Iran to accept limits on the development of more deadly and longer-range systems. Iran’s discontent with the de facto banking restrictions it still faces and the additional sanctions likely to be imposed over its missile tests suggests the potential for a trade-off. Kerry recently hinted as much, and although Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif immediately dismissed the idea, it has merit.

Other forms of diplomacy should also be pursued to address Iran’s propensity for regional misbehaviour. In recent weeks there have been several interdictions of Iranian weapons shipments to Houthi rebels in Yemen. In Syria, Iran’s IRGC forces are now being supplemented by regular Iranian army troops. US CentCom commander General Lloyd Austin testified in March that Iran’s regional behaviour has not changed since the nuclear deal, for better or for worse: ‘The fact remains that Iran today is a significant destabilizing force in the region’, he said.

It must be recognised, however, that Iran is not the only regional state engaged in abetting these conflicts. Resolution of the Yemen civil war will require both Iran and Saudi Arabia to stop their military interventions. The sooner that these parties can work out a mutual pull-back, the better. Saudis and other Gulf state Arabs have complained that they were excluded from the nuclear negotiations. They should take matters into their own hands in engaging with Iran over the regional issues that are of most concern to them.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS-Americas. The above draws on a presentation by the author at an IISS corporate event at Arundel House on 14 April.

Matthew Harries: Party politics and bad luck are dragging Britain towards Brexit

David Cameron is a weak prime minister leading a divided government. The peculiar thing about this assertion is that it is true now, and not a year ago, when Cameron was in charge of a two-party coalition government, a rarity in British politics. In May 2015 Cameron won an extraordinary general-election victory, becoming the first full-term incumbent prime minister since 1832 to increase both his party’s share of the vote and its total number of seats in the House of Commons. He returned as prime minister having shed his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, who were beaten almost out of political existence. In the following months, Labour proceeded to elect as leader a veteran MP drawn from the party’s hard left, Jeremy Corbyn, who duly appointed as his shadow chancellor a backbench colleague, John McDonnell, who in 2006 had described his greatest intellectual influences as Lenin, Marx and Trotsky. Corbyn told the BBC he would never, under any circumstances, use Britain’s nuclear weapons – thereby breaking the taboo that held, based on Labour’s electoral annihilation in the 1980s, that the party should leave unilateral disarmament well alone – and McDonnell, having declared his plan for the British economy to be ‘socialism with an iPad’, quoted from Mao’s little red book on the floor of the House of Commons. Meanwhile, the rapid rise of the Scottish National Party north of the border had cost Labour more than 50 seats, and with the Conservatives dominant in England, there was a reasonable chance that the Labour Party would never again win an outright parliamentary majority.

Yet, facing a political open goal, the government has fractured. David Cameron is currently facing a wave of hostile press over his tax affairs, but his problems and his party’s divisions have much deeper roots. The Conservatives are at war over the same cause that broke them apart in the 1990s: the European Union. Cameron had built his party leadership on healing that wound. ‘While parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life, we were banging on about Europe’, he told the party in his first speech as leader. And indeed they had been; most famously, John Major’s cabinet had split in 1993 over the Maastricht Treaty, over which the government was defeated in parliament, helped by rebellious cabinet ministers that Major famously called ‘bastards’. (Writing in the Trump era, it is necessary to point out that at the time, this was a pretty big deal.) Cameron decided to treat Britain’s membership of the European Union as a fait accompli, and brooked little dissent against his moderate approach to the EU. In the early years of his party leadership, it was unwise for a Conservative MP with ministerial ambitions to advocate British withdrawal. But Cameron’s failure to secure a parliamentary majority in 2010, and his entry into coalition with the Liberal Democrats, undermined Cameron’s claims that a move to the centre ground was the only route back to electoral success after three terms of Labour government. This was then compounded by the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which appeared, as the 2015 election approached, to pose a serious danger of splitting the Conservative vote.

In response, Cameron punctured his own dam, promising in a January 2013 speech at Bloomberg’s UK headquarters that if re-elected his government would offer a referendum on British membership of the EU, and embark on a process of negotiating EU reform. In tactical terms, the concession worked, taking some of the sting out of the UKIP threat. Despite winning, at 12.5%, the third-largest vote share, thanks to the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system UKIP won only one seat, and even that was effectively inherited, having belonged to an MP who had defected from the Conservatives. But the crucial concession had already been made. The Conservatives came to power committed to holding a referendum, and Cameron could suppress his party’s euroscepticism no longer. In February 2016, having secured a modest package of promises for EU reform, he announced that the government’s position in the referendum would be for the UK to stay, but that cabinet ministers would be free to campaign for British exit if they so chose (a rare exemption from the principle of collective ministerial responsibility, whereby the price of a cabinet job is the obligation to support the government’s policies, whatever one’s personal objections).

Almost immediately, Cameron lost major party figures to the eurosceptic cause, including London mayor Boris Johnson, who is seen as Cameron’s most likely successor as party leader (Cameron has promised not to serve another term after the 2020 election). Some, such as justice secretary Michael Gove, took a conciliatory approach to announcing their opposition, standing by the government’s broader record. But the spectacle of cabinet unity being wilfully broken seriously undermined Cameron’s authority. It seemed hardly a coincidence that upon the announcement of the new budget in March, the fiercely eurosceptic Iain Duncan Smith resigned as minister for work and pensions, claiming that the government’s simultaneous cuts to disability benefits and corporation tax were an affront to social equality – an admirable sentiment which he had somehow managed to suppress in his six preceding years of ministerial service. Duncan Smith’s resignation, and the almost immediate reversal of the government’s plans to cut disability benefits, were not only an affront to Cameron but a near-fatal blow to the leadership hopes of his chancellor, George Osborne.

Boris Johnson’s defection established the EU referendum as a rallying point for rivals to Cameron, a leader without a natural base within his own party and thus lacking the favourable constituency in the British press that would normally come with it. The dynamic was reinforced in the following weeks: senior Conservative figures with an interest in weakening the prime minister’s grip on the party took to the media to contradict their leader’s core message on Europe. And anything which further weakens Cameron – such as his father’s appearance in the Panama Papers – will weaken, by default, the official voice for Britain’s EU membership. Cameron’s ill fortune is Brexit’s gain.

Thus it was that by the spring of 2016, the nominally pro-EU government of the United Kingdom contained high-profile figures arguing for Brexit from within and without the cabinet, and the nominally pro-EU governing party was in a state of civil war, with close to half of its MPs favouring withdrawal. This might have been bearable, from the point of the broader campaign for Britain to stay, if the natural voices of support for the EU on the left had been as loud as would normally be expected. But they were not.

There has always been a Labour strain of euroscepticism. It shares with its right-wing variant a concern for the EU’s democratic deficit – this was most notably the preoccupation of Tony Benn, figurehead of the Labour left – but it is concerned less with such issues as immigration and cultural sovereignty than with the economic model the EU is supposed to represent. It was prime minister Harold Wilson’s Labour government which campaigned to keep the UK in the European Economic Community in the 1975 referendum, but under Michael Foot in opposition, at the peak of the Labour left’s control on the party, Labour campaigned in the 1983 election for British withdrawal. The ‘longest suicide note in history’, as the party’s manifesto that year was famously dubbed, held the EEC to be an obstacle to ‘radical, socialist policies for reviving the British economy’, including pursuing the target of full employment, national support for industry, restoring exchange controls and regulating direct overseas investment.

This is the political tradition from which Jeremy Corbyn and his allies are drawn. Corbyn voted in 1975 for Britain to leave; in 1993 he said the Maastricht Treaty would hand power to ‘an unelected set of bankers who will impose the economic policies of price stability, deflation and high unemployment throughout the European Community’; and he voted against the Lisbon Treaty in 2008. While campaigning for the Labour leadership in 2015 he said he would support withdrawal ‘if we are going to get an imposition of free market policies across Europe’. Pushing the Labour party to adopt a formal pro-Brexit position would, even for Corbyn, have provoked unacceptable levels of party rebellion, and Labour remains officially committed to Britain’s continued membership. But Corbyn has been no more than lukewarm, and is certainly not mobilising the party for a pro-EU fight. When ‘Labour In for Britain’, the party’s referendum operation, organised a national day of campaigning, for example, Corbyn was busy marching on parliament for unilateral nuclear disarmament.

So the UK’s two major parties are officially in favour of a vote to remain. But both parties are weak and divided, and the strongly pro-European third party is on the brink of extinction. And although it is hard to construct a coherent case that Britain’s material interests would be served by withdrawal, Europe’s problems strengthen both the right- and left-wing cases against the EU. Terrorist attacks on European soil at a time of refugee crisis feed British anxieties about immigration and the security implications of Schengen, notwithstanding the fact that these are largely separate matters, and that the UK is not a Schengen signatory. Greece’s treatment during the euro crisis lends weight to left-wing charges that the EU is a ‘neoliberal’ cartel. On the latter point, it does not help that the most substantive aspects of Cameron’s reform negotiations concerned a search for efficiencies in the operation of the single market.

There is, therefore, great cause to worry about Brexit. The long, slow and now sudden fall of the European centre-left is especially evident in Britain, where the forces of anti-establishment feeling which define much of Western politics are strong; and the topic of the European Union is the open sore of Britain’s party of government. Were the referendum simply an exercise in calculating risk and material interest, it would be no contest, and we can still count on powerful forces mobilising in favour of Britain remaining part of the EU, not least the City of London. The problem is that while the EU operates best by subtracting politics from governance, you cannot subtract politics from a popular referendum. And in this sense the structure of British politics is currently about as unfavourable as could ever have been imagined.

Update, 14 April 2016: Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at Senate House today, his first major address in the referendum campaign, provided one major reassurance alongside continued cause for concern. The major reassurance is that Corbyn stated unequivocally his party’s policy: ‘Labour is convinced that a vote to remain is in the best interests of the people of this country’. The speech was an adequate reassertion of that position, and will provide a useful reminder that the UK’s major parties are formally united in their support for Remain. As George Eaton put it for the New Statesman, ‘The most significant fact of Corbyn’s speech was simply his giving it’. It indicates that this, unlike Trident renewal, is one Labour policy that Corbyn will not seek to alter. And Corbyn went some way towards addressing left-wing concerns about the EU as a hotbed of neoliberalism, emphasising the ‘socialist case’ for remaining a member.

On the other hand, as calls to arms go, this was thin gruel. It was noticeable that Corbyn spoke more in the general than in the individual – this was Labour’s case for Remain, rather than his own – and made no attempt to explain a personal change of heart. His principal argument for the EU’s benefits was as a restraint on the UK’s Conservative government, which will not sit entirely easily in a cross-party campaign led by a Conservative prime minister. And, perhaps more seriously, Corbyn made no effort to rebut many of the substantive claims of the Leave campaign on trade, immigration and sovereignty, sticking instead to a series of talking points about the EU’s contributions in various fields and attacks on the government’s record.

It may be that Corbyn’s lukewarm embrace of the EU is in keeping with the mood of a British public wary of ‘Brussels’ yet resigned to the inevitability of membership. But in a referendum campaign in which the Remain camp suffers a deficit of enthusiasm, and in which voter turnout is likely to be crucial, reluctant conversion to the European cause may not be enough. Today’s speech was a start; without repeated, whole-hearted returns to press the case for British membership, Corbyn’s ambivalence will continue to be a liability. 

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS. You can follow him on twitter at @harries_matthew.

Bastian Giegerich: EU catches Dutch disease

Christopher Hill, a Cambridge professor of International Relations, once suggested that public opinion in relation to foreign policy was a bit like the Loch Ness monster – a mythical creature, often talked about but rarely seen. Yesterday it reared its ugly head. Dutch voters rejected the European Union–Ukraine association agreement in a referendum, delivering a severe blow to European solidarity and further damaging the efforts of 28 governments to form a coherent foreign policy.

‘Public opinion’ in this case, according to the preliminary results of the referendum, represents about 60% of those Dutch voters who participated in the referendum. With turnout just over 30%, which incidentally was the threshold for a valid referendum, this amounts to roughly 2.5 million votes in an EU of 508 million citizens. Given that the other 27 EU member states have already ratified the agreement, that it already passed a vote in the Dutch parliament, that the referendum is non-binding in character, and that some of the association agreement’s provisions are already in effect, the immediate political challenge is to find a way forward that simultaneously acknowledges the reality of the outcome without wrecking the EU’s agenda for stability and reform in Ukraine.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who publicly supported the agreement, said in an initial reaction, ‘my view is that if the turnout is more than 30%, with such a victory for the “No” camp, ratification [of the association agreement] cannot go ahead without discussion.’ With final results due in a few days, there is little time for Rutte to coordinate within his government and across the EU. In any case, what matters more is the bigger picture.

The Dutch referendum was hijacked by emotions. While the question in front of voters was formally on whether or not they supported the association agreement with Ukraine, even the initiators of the referendum went on record to say that Ukraine did not matter. They wanted the referendum to be a vote on the EU more broadly and an opportunity to vent their general anger.

Instead of the alleged democratic deficit in the EU, leaders should worry about the trust deficit in their societies. It is obvious that the bond between significant parts of electorates and leaders in Europe is broken. When senior government leaders argue in favour of official positions, they risk being labelled undemocratic and condescending vis-à-vis the citizen on the street. Much worse, people seem to have stopped believing that their leaders tell the truth: no matter how many times Dutch leaders confirmed that the association agreement would not give Ukraine a path to EU membership, anti-association voters did not believe them. This might not yet imply a continental crisis of representative democracy, but it is a weakness waiting to be exploited.

Populist movements across the Union stand ready to take advantage. Empowered by modern communication tools, several hundreds of thousands of signatures to trigger a referendum – in the Dutch case 300,000 were needed – can be gathered from the comfort of one’s living room. Decisions are made by those who show up. In the Netherlands on this occasion, 70% did not bother. Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch right-wing Freedom Party, delighted with the referendum and the result, suggested we might have witnessed ‘the beginning of the end of the EU’. Similar triumphalism is likely in Moscow, where Russian President Vladimir Putin will welcome the opportunity to further exploit yet another rift among EU member states in his quest to undermine the liberal international order the EU represents.

In Kiev, where many hopes linked to the 2013 and 2014 protests and change of government continue to be disappointed in the face of persistent corruption and Russian sponsored separatism, it will be hard to interpret the Dutch referendum as anything but a slap in the face and a refusal to let Ukrainians share in the liberal and prosperous vision of closer association with Western Europe. It might also be seen as rewarding Russian aggression and disregard for international law, from a country which saw more than 190 of its citizens perish when MH17 was brought down over Eastern Ukraine.

Finally, there will be consequences for the EU itself. Already badly shaken by multiple crises and in limbo until the British referendum on membership in June, it received a further blow to its foreign policy agenda. A week after the British referendum, the EU is due to present its new ‘Global Strategy’ for foreign and security policy. Its ability to act upon it is declining even before the paper is out. 

Bastian Giegerich is Director of Defence and Military Analysis at IISS. He is co-author of the Survival article The Munich Consensus and the Purpose of German Power.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Getting serious about North Korea

In a talk at the Harvard Belfer Center on 6 April, I argued that it is time to get serious about North Korea, by giving concerted, high-level attention to both sanctions and diplomacy. Pyongyang’s failed test launch of the medium-range mobile ballistic missile dubbed the Musudan underscores the danger and the need.

Over the past three years, world leaders focused intently on the Iranian nuclear challenge, and through a careful combination of incentives and disincentives succeeded in bottling up any Iranian nuclear-weapons option for the next 15-plus years. North Korea presents a far more serious nuclear challenge.

Unlike Iran, North Korea makes no bones about having an active nuclear-weapons programme. It has clearly violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as well as international norms against nuclear testing. It also clearly seeks an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Separating the reality of North Korea’s strategic programmes from the regime’s bluster is not easy. The outlandishness of the hermit kingdom’s boasts makes it tempting to pooh-pooh their capabilities.

We do not know much about their hardware, and we know less about the internal dynamics of the system. Whether the nuclear devices are entirely based on plutonium, and how far their uranium enrichment programme has progressed, remains unknown. The absence to date of test launches of their longer-range missile systems and of re-entry tests underscores the guesswork nature of assessments. Such uncertainty works to the regime’s benefit, because its deterrence and political purposes are served to the extent that adversaries believe they have powerful weapons.

But just because Pyongyang wants us to pay attention, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. While an ICBM threat to the US homeland is still years away, North Korea today presents a clear and present danger to its immediate neighbours. Its Nodong missiles are a proven system which can hit all of South Korea and much of Japan. Armed with a crude 1,000kg warhead, the Nodong can fly 900km – not quite to Tokyo, but the range covers Japan’s capital if the warhead mass can be reduced to 750kg, a task Pyongyang has probably mastered. The Nodong variant displayed in October 2010 could probably fly 1600km, meaning it could also hit US bases on Okinawa, which is likely to be North Korea’s strategic objective.

Concerned states need to take effective action to halt further progress in the North’s strategic weapons programme. Such action has already begun. South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s difficult decision in February to close the Kaesong industrial zone after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test showed how seriously Seoul is taking the issue. China’s agreement to impose tough UN sanctions on 2 March and then to implement them showed a new seriousness as well. But UN Security Council Resolution 2270 has loopholes that now need to be closed, including by banning all coal exports, not just those that funnel money into the strategic programmes.

As important as it is that China stops underwriting the Kim regime through its trade and investments, it is wrong to presume that China alone holds the key to stopping the North's threatening behaviour. At a recent workshop in Washington DC on North Korea it was claimed, bizarrely to my mind, that the role of third parties – meaning China – is vital, yet the US could itself do little to change the regime's nuclear trajectory. China believes the opposite. In fact, both views are exaggerated.

Sanctions alone will not be sufficient. Negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme succeeded because of a combination of sanctions and incentives. Both sides made compromises. US Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew recently warned against ‘sanctions overreach’ - relying too much on sanctions without a broader strategy for achieving foreign-policy goals. He was referring to the Iran case, but the same applies to North Korea.

Concerned states must not rush to offer a deal immediately after the nuclear and missile tests. To do so would encourage Pyongyang to continue such provocations. At some point, however, high-level engagement is needed. It may be too late for the Obama administration to put in place an engagement strategy with North Korea. But it would be very helpful to his successor if he began the effort.

Washington has certainly tried to engage before, with temporary success. In 1994, bilateral talks produced the Agreed Framework; in 2005, Six Party Talks produced a joint statement in which North Korea agreed to denuclearisation, and the US and Japan agreed to begin work toward normalisation. In 2012, bilateral talks produced the Leap Day deal in which the North agreed to a moratorium on nuclear tests, enrichment activity and missile launches. The circumstances in which North Korea eventually broke each deal provided lessons on Pyongyang’s duplicity but also showed how each deal could have been improved.

Unlike the Iran case, the major powers may not have a partner in Pyongyang willing and able to accept compromises. Kim Jong-un, whose schooling in Switzerland gave reason to hope he would bring reforms, now seems more akin to Stalin than to Gorbachev. But we don’t know. It is preposterous that only the American to get to know him is Dennis Rodman.

High-level engagement need not mean major concessions that imperil national interests. North Korea should not be accorded recognised status as nuclear-armed. But its adversaries can engage in peace-treaty talks, as long as South Korea is involved, and there is no presumption of any change to the US–South Korea alliance. A peace regime does not necessarily mean departure of US forces.

North Korea probably will not trade away its nukes, but it may agree again to freeze the programme. It should also agree on no transfer of weapons technology. Internal verification is problematic, but interdiction efforts of the type used in the Proliferation Security Initiative can enforce the existing ban.

The United States has to be careful not to signal that it only cares about containment, and not denuclearisation, which must remain the goal. If diplomacy does not work, concerted effort to put pressure on North Korea will be ramped up. Efforts to sharpen the regime’s choices serve a longer-term goal of hastening internal conditions in North Korea for changing the nature of its government, ideally through unification with the South.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS-Americas.

Faisal Hamid: The fear of American Muslims

Islamophobia, in the sense of a fear of Islam, was an appropriate term after 11 September 2001. The hijackers were ostensibly Muslim; al-Qaeda used Islam to justify the attacks. My fourth-grade classmates told stories about how the hijackers’ religion instructed them to kill. They were genuinely afraid. Since then, the nature of their fear, and the fear of others like them, has changed. When Barack Obama was elected president, 12% of the country believed that a Muslim was moving into the White House. Amazingly, that proportion has grown during his presidency, to nearly 20% in 2010 and 30% today. These are angry Americans, whose anger is ready to be exploited and used as a mobilising political force.

I experienced the effects of this organised anger in the midst of the bizarre controversy in 2010 over the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’, so called despite being neither truly a mosque nor located at Ground Zero. In the first week of my freshman year at Yale, on my way into the local mosque for Friday prayer, I walked past a New Haven police car. The Connecticut Muslim community had been so inundated with threats of violence that it requested police protection.

Today, major politicians can mobilise vitriol against Muslims with impunity. When Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said that Muslims would need to be schizophrenic in order to both adhere to Sharia and democracy, he did so ignorant of what Sharia is. Ted Cruz wants law enforcement to ‘patrol and secure’ Muslim neighbourhoods; New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton responded that the candidate has ‘no idea what the hell he's talking about’. When Donald Trump called for a ban on all Muslims from entering the country, his poll numbers rose. I am not frightened by politicians turning to populism; politicians have always done so, and businessmen like Donald Trump are trained to take advantage of consumer sentiment. But I am afraid of what comes next.

A growing number of Americans who are angry about stagnant incomes, a culture war that they are losing and a demographic shift away from whiteness are looking for a target. If they settle on Muslim Americans, our lives will be in danger. Such targeting has so far ranged from the bizarre to the deadly. Some have taken to wrapping strips of bacon around the door handles of mosques, including in my Bay Area community (perhaps unaware that, as the religious scholar Reza Aslan pointed out, bacon is not the Muslim kryptonite). Early this winter, a woman allegedly threw coffee at a Muslim man praying in a park 25 minutes from my house. Days later, a man was arrested for building a pipe bomb to blow up the mosque my friends attend in Richmond, California. In some communities, armed second-amendment extremists stand outside of mosques to intimidate worshippers.

In October 2015, the family of Ahmed Mohamed announced that the 14-year-old would be moving to Qatar to finish school at the Doha Academy. Ahmed had been the subject of national attention after he was arrested at his Irving, Texas, school the previous month under suspicion that the homemade clock he had brought to show his teachers was a bomb. His family described the fear he felt that day, and after receiving numerous threats in the subsequent weeks. Ahmed later said that he wanted to come back to Texas but had been dissuaded: ‘I was scared because I’ve heard what happened recently with, like, people with guns going to my local mosque.’

I saw a younger version of myself in handcuffs when Ahmed was taken out of school. There is a definite physical resemblance. I know how I would have felt, too: scared and confused, but also increasingly angry. I know I cannot do anything about terrorism in Iraq and Syria; I cannot do anything about dictatorship in Egypt; I cannot do anything about sexism in Saudi Arabia; I cannot do anything about suicide bombers in Pakistan; I cannot do anything about psychotic killers in Boston and San Bernardino. But when my father is pelted with eggs or my sister’s headscarf is torn off in high school because of events totally out of their control, what else can I feel but fury?

At a recent speech to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, his first visit as president to an American mosque, Barack Obama spoke directly to young Muslims like Ahmed Mohamed and me: ‘If you’re ever wondering whether you fit in here, let me say it as clearly as I can, as President of the United States: You fit in here—right here. You’re right where you belong. You’re part of America, too.’ I fear that a growing part of the country does not agree.

Faisal Hamid is a Masters candidate at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Removing Japan's dangerous fissile material

Japan’s shipment this week of 331kg of weapons-grade plutonium to the United States represents a signal achievement in global efforts to strengthen non-proliferation and nuclear security. It shows Japan’s good will and reflects close US–Japan relations. 

The plutonium in question was sent to Japan years ago by the US, UK and France, and has been used exclusively for peaceful scientific purposes. Because it was potentially vulnerable to theft or misuse and was no longer necessary for research, the United States offered to take it off Japan’s hands. In line with global best practices, it will be consolidated with other plutonium and stored at the heavily guarded Savannah River Site in South Carolina. 

Japan’s agreement to remove this fissile material came in 2014 at the third of the Nuclear Security Summits set in place by US President Barack Obama. Without the action-forcing impact of a summit, such a decision probably would not have been forthcoming. The move to begin loading it this week was in turn spurred by the timing of the fourth and last Nuclear Security Summit to be held in Washington at the end of March. It will be announced at the summit that all of the plutonium as well as the highly enriched uranium that foreign countries had supplied to Japan has been removed.

As I noted when the decision was made to repatriate this fissile material, it was a good news story that Chinese critics of Japan sought to twist as concealing something sinister. Even though Japan is far more transparent about its nuclear holdings and, in contrast to China, has no nuclear-weapons programme at all, such critics miss no chance to criticise Japan for its accumulation of plutonium that could potentially be used in weapons.

The criticism is usually focused on Japan’s massive stockpile of reactor-grade plutonium: 11 metric tonnes stored in Japan, plus another 36 tonnes reprocessed in France and the United Kingdom. There is also concern that the amount will further grow if and when the reprocessing facility at Rokkasho begins operation. A by-product of nuclear power plants, the stockpile was supposed to be kept in balance and reduced by means of fabrication into hugely expensive mixed oxide fuel (up to nine times most costly than regular nuclear fuel) and burnt in designated reactors. Safety concerns heightened by the Fukushima disaster and technical troubles have rendered the plan fantastical.

The size of the plutonium stockpile is one of several reasons Japan should forego reprocessing, which makes no economic sense and raises suspicions among its neighbours about Tokyo’s intentions. The strongest reason, however, concerns security, as spelled out at an insightful forum on 22 March organised by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center on ‘US-Japanese Nuclear Cooperation and the Problem of Plutonium’. If Japan proceeds with Rokkasho, it will further incentivise China and South Korea to proceed with their own reprocessing aspirations. Producing more weapons-usable plutonium in a region that already features three nuclear-armed states will exacerbate tensions and the potential for nuclear terrorism. As Steve Fetter of the White House Office of Science and Technology has argued, ending plutonium reprocessing would be the single largest contribution Japan could make to strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Given the seemingly intractable obstacles posed by local politics, even those Japanese officials who oppose Rokkasho say it would be impossible to declare Rokkasho dead. Some therefore see perpetual postponement on technical grounds as the only way out. In January, start-up was postponed for the 23rd time, pushing it to 2018. But repeated delays will not address the suspicions of Japan’s neighbours.

The plutonium stockpile and Rokkasho are not the only issues of potential proliferation concern. Realistically, if Tokyo were ever to consider pursuing nuclear weapons, it surely would want better fissile material than the unreliable and hard-to-handle reactor-grade plutonium. 

As I explain in my book on Asia’s Latent Nuclear Powers: Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, Japan actually has a small store of ‘supergrade’ plutonium that is higher purity than weapons grade. Up to 22kg was produced in blankets at the Joyo prototype fast breeder reactor (FBR) in 1977-78 and up to 62kg in blankets at the Monju FBR. Together, it would be enough for about 20 weapons. The plutonium is monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency and is unseparated, meaning that it could not be used without reprocessing, probably in a specially designed facility that would need to be built. The supergrade plutonium thus does not represent an immediate proliferation risk. If Japan wants to be completely clean, however, it should take steps to remove this fissile material, too.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS-Americas.

Jonathan Stevenson: Grim business as usual after Brussels

The analytic consensus was that the Paris attacks on 13 November 2015 that killed 130 people signalled a new phase for the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), in which it would supplement its attempt to establish a caliphate in the Middle East and North Africa with out-of-area attacks that enhanced its brand and thickened the flow of recruits to the main cause. The question was when the next concerted attack would occur, and where in Europe or the United States ISIS would choose to strike. ISIS-inspired lone-wolf operations, such as the one in San Bernardino, California, didn’t qualify as such, and the answer turned out to be Brussels – like Paris, a prominent symbolic target, arguably even higher in value given its status as headquarters of both NATO and the European Union. Some 34 died, and over 200 were hurt.

There will be calls for international solidarity, tightened airport and ground-transportation security, less porous borders within and outside the EU, restrictions on the entry of Middle Eastern refugees and the movements of potential foreign fighters, enhanced intelligence sharing and coordination, more intelligence and security personnel and intensified air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq. And there will be jingoistic, simplistic and largely substanceless criticisms of the Obama administration’s judicious Middle East policy, many from the US campaign trail. Security improvements will be made at the margins. But although the Brussels attacks came only four days after the arrest of Paris terrorist Salah Abdeslam, the timing is probably coincidental; it is unlikely that ISIS has the capacity to plan and execute an attack on such short notice. Unless ISIS follows quickly with another well-organised, highly lethal terrorist operation in Europe or the US, the transatlantic security community will probably settle into the calm if grim dispensation that Brussels has confirmed the post-Paris threat assessment and reflects business as usual: periodic terrorist attacks on European soil.

The operation was, to be sure, a tragic reminder that Islamist terrorists will not go quietly or quickly, and that Islamist terrorist infrastructure in Europe long predated ISIS and is not easily dismantled. Al-Qaeda responded to the global counter-terrorism mobilisation after 9/11 by hitting soft transnational targets of opportunity, including Madrid and London, which for a time became its new normal alongside al-Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI’s) campaign against the US-led coalition in Iraq. ISIS appears to be essentially following that model. The understandably emotional response of Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel that ‘we are at war’ may sound like a call to arms. In strictly factual terms, it is a redundancy. A US-led multinational coalition, including Europe, has been at war with ISIS for more than 18 months, the US pounding its positions in Iraq and Syria with nearly 10,000 air strikes. And a so-called ‘war on terror’ in general has been under way since 9/11.

The reality, however frustrating, is that, under any of several plausible hypotheses about ISIS’s motivations, it is difficult for Washington and European capitals to do much more. Under increasing pressure, and gradually losing territory in Iraq and Syria before and since the Paris operation, ISIS may have extended its operations to Europe to deter the United States, by bleeding its European allies and implicitly threatening similar attacks on the US homeland, from escalating in the Middle East theatre. Or – acutely aware that its ancestor AQI arose as the result of US military ground intervention and killed more Americans than any other al-Qaeda franchise – the Islamic State’s leadership may recognise that even if the deterrence strategy backfires, the United States’ further militarisation of its regional counterterrorism effort could ultimately benefit ISIS in terms of recruitment and prestige. A Middle East in violent geopolitical turmoil jibes with the Islamic State’s apocalyptic eschatology, which is as big a selling point now as it was for al-Qaeda a decade ago. If ISIS is thinking win-win in aiming for either a military pullback or fuller military intervention, the US and its partners would be well-advised to hold their nerve and give ISIS neither satisfaction, continuing to focus on diplomacy backed by limited military force. In other words, business as usual.

A third, more radical possibility is that ISIS – unbound by the formidable mass-casualty precedent of 9/11 that seemed to constrain al-Qaeda central from engaging primarily in more traditional forms of terrorism – simply aims to mount a high-tempo urban-warfare campaign, gunning down innocents and blowing them up in place like a turbocharged Provisional IRA. This scenario may be the most sobering: the strategy’s logistical and weapons requirements are relatively modest, and the dire prospect of ISIS directly engaging Western forces and citizens at close quarters on their home turf – thus shaking the public’s confidence in the government’s capacity to protect it – conjures the intense politicisation of counter-terrorism with potentially dire consequences for modern governance and open society. Yet, in the ethno-nationalist and ideological terrorists of the Cold War era, European governments faced similar challenges and learned from them – among other things, resisting the militarisation of counter-terrorism in favour of a law-enforcement approach. Like al-Qaeda, ISIS has given them more to learn and more to do, but it’s still business, more or less, as usual.

Jonathan Stevenson is IISS Senior Fellow for US Defence, and Editor of Strategic Comments.

Russell Crandall: Mr Obama goes to Havana

Americans perhaps needed to rub their eyes after watching US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro warmly shaking hands and listening to a Cuban military band play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ yesterday. This was during a welcoming ceremony to the official talks on the American president’s second day of a three-day visit. Obama went over to the bandleader to thank him for the excellent rendition of a song that, as the New York Times reported, was ‘unlikely to be in its repertoire’.

‘It’s been nearly 90 years since a US president has stepped foot in Cuba,’ President Obama said to a group of US Embassy officials soon after his arrival on Sunday. Indeed, Calvin Coolidge was the last sitting president to visit the Caribbean nation in 1928 when he praised Cubans as ‘independent, free, prosperous, peaceful and enjoying the advantages of self-government’. (Jimmy Carter visited as an ex-president.) And, as Obama pointed out, it took Air Force One three hours while Coolidge’s battleship took three days to reach Havana. Obama’s goal? Continue a delicate bilateral dialogue with a sclerotic totalitarian regime, make a personal impression on 11 million Cubans and expedite the economic, diplomatic, and even cultural normalisation process.

Obama’s decision to visit rests squarely on his belief that the opening to Cuba is one of his important foreign-policy legacies. Given that relations have been effectively frozen since 1960, his awareness of the history books is not without merit. Preternaturally inclined to play the long game both domestically and abroad, Obama’s hope is that his dramatic action on Cuba will force recalcitrants in both Washington and Havana to come around eventually. As for the Congressionally mandated trade embargo in place since 1960, Obama showed his hand in a recent pre-trip interview. ‘My strong prediction is that sometime in the next president's administration, whether they are a Democrat or a Republican, the embargo in fact will be removed, because it makes sense for us to be able to sell into Cuba, to do business with Cubans, to show our business practices and how we treat workers and how we approach issues of human rights.’ Obama’s optimistic stance is buoyed by the strong majority of Americans who favour ending the embargo and establishing normal relations. The holdouts, such as US senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who give rote recitations of Cuba’s undemocratic regime to justify an embargo older than they are, will look increasingly like those Japanese soldiers who kept on fighting on remote Pacific islands years and decades after the war had ended.

Eager to demonstrate that his engagement of the decidedly undemocratic Havana regime did not mean jettisoning human rights, Obama is meeting with civil-society activists and the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who at the behest of Pope Francis helped broker the secret deal between the two governments. Yet any idea that Obama’s charisma and bold policy rapprochement would bring swift reform was quickly disabused with reports that Cuban security forces had made dozens of arrests hours before the visit – including at the weekly march of the visible dissident outfit Ladies in White, whose leader Berta Soler was scheduled to meet with Obama on Tuesday. Another dissident, Elizardo Sánchez of the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told the New York Times that over 500 activists had been detained in March, a decided uptick. As Sánchez explained, ‘It’s the climate of intimidation the government is creating for Obama’s visit. Right now what you see is preventive repression, so it does not occur to anyone to say anything to Obama while he is here.’ Or as another regime opponent in the eastern provincial city of Santiago de Cuba characterised the unfolding crack down, ‘It’s the third law of Newton: the greater the actions for democracy, the greater the repressive reaction by the regime.’

Even the ostensibly cultural event of Mr Obama viewing the Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays take the diamond against the Cuban national team could not escape politics and intrigue: the invitation-only ballgame distributed tickets mostly to regime loyalists. Yet the real high-stakes game is not the one that retired Yankees star Derek Jeter will be attending alongside Obama. The clue is in the way that Obama manoeuvred an obviously unhappy Castro into taking questions from reporters, including awkward questions on political prisoners, at their joint press conference yesterday. The American president is betting that his brief rapprochement will help trigger the seismic tremors to one day loosen or even topple this communist regime.

Russell Crandall is a Professor of American foreign policy at Davidson College in North Carolina and a contributing editor to Survival.

Dana H. Allin: Donald Trump and the American Dream

Last night, on the Republican candidates’ debate stage in Detroit, Michigan, frontrunner Donald Trump assured his supporters and other viewers that there is ‘no problem’ with the size of his penis. And lest we imagine that this unique moment in American political history was the special contribution of our most famous Bronx real-estate-magnate-cum-vulgarian, we should note that the subject was first raised not by Trump but by Senator Marco Rubio – fading favourite of the Republican establishment – on the campaign trail earlier this week.

In the film of public life, this is the dream sequence – the kind of dream from which America has been trying exhaustedly and futilely to wake itself since sometime last summer. Or it is the reality-TV version of The Great Gatsby except that Fitzgerald’s somewhat shady Gatsby was self-made, not the mediocre steward of an inherited fortune; Gatsby’s strivings for lost love and green-light redemption followed a lyrical trajectory; and he was a character in a novel. As a third alternative, Robert Kagan, the neoconservative historian and public intellectual, proposes Greek myth. ‘Today’s Republican Party is our Oedipus’, Kagan wrote last week. ‘A plague has descended on the party in the form of the most successful demagogue-charlatan in the history of U.S. politics.’

Kagan’s crucial argument is that his party, like Oedipus, brought the plague upon itself. Trump, he insisted, is the natural consequence of the ‘party’s wild obstructionism — the repeated threats to shut down the government over policy and legislative disagreements, the persistent calls for nullification of Supreme Court decisions, the insistence that compromise was betrayal, the internal coups against party leaders who refused to join the general demolition.’ Trump’s bigotry has also been ‘enabled’, Kagan insisted, by the party’s attacks on immigrants, its trafficking in Islamophobia, and by its drumbeat of ‘Obama hatred, a racially tinged derangement syndrome that made any charge plausible and any opposition justified’.

Kagan was among the hundred Republican foreign-policy analysts and operatives who signed an open letter, circulated on Wednesday, vowing that they will not support a Trump campaign if he wins the nomination. Yesterday was also the day that Mitt Romney, who enthusiastically embraced Trump’s endorsement in 2012, denounced him in a speech in Salt Lake City as a dangerous fraud. And in the debate there started to emerge the signs of a strategic cartel, with Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz indicating that they would both stay in the race, not so much to win as to deny Trump a majority of delegates before what would then become a contested – and absolutely fascinating – Republican convention.

But Kagan in his Washington Post op-ed intimated strongly that this would not be enough. ‘For this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton. The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be.’ On the reasonable, though by no means certain, assumption that Trump continues to be successful, the central drama of the next six months will be how many Republicans follow Kagan’s renunciation. Some have spoken instead of backing a third-party candidacy, which would probably have the practical effect of ensuring a Democratic victory, and which also might split the Republican Party irrevocably. The candidates last night, however, were asked at the end of the debate whether they were still committed to supporting the party’s nominee, even if it is Trump. They all said yes.

Dana H. Allin is the Editor of Survival, and IISS Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs.

Dana H. Allin: Trump's loud silent majority

The silent majority STANDS WITH TRUMP.’

For someone who can remember the 1968 United States presidential election, these placards, waved by Donald Trump supporters at his Tampa, Florida campaign rally on Monday, are striking. Trump, too, is more than old enough to remember 1968, and the historical echo is clearly intended. The silent majority was Richard Nixon’s phrase, and he used it with great effect to channel the resentment of middle class Americans against campus radicals, urban (which is to say, black) rioters and the general spectre of social breakdown.

Nixon had conservative, even reactionary instincts – he was a genuine anti-Semite, for example – but he was also an establishment Republican with pragmatic policy ideas. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote a few weeks ago that the Republican Party, and by extension, the country, needs a Richard Nixon today – a conservative politician who can channel the atavism of Trump followers, as Nixon channelled the racist anger of George Wallace followers, but without abandoning civilised norms. The point being that Nixon, whatever his personal demons, went on to pursue sensible, mainstream policies in the White House. Douthat is a thoughtful and always interesting conservative, and his arguments are usually worthy of reflection. Nixon, of course, also pursued a ‘Southern Strategy’ to capitalise on the disaffections of southern whites with a Democratic Party that had embraced the civil-rights movement. This started the consolidation of the former party of Lincoln in its stronghold in the former southern confederacy. But Nixon accomplished this realignment without actually trying, or pretending, to roll back civil-rights advances.

The 1968 comparison has seemed ever more apt in the past two weeks. Trump’s incitement and his campaign events have become more violent. At the beginning of this phase, Peter Beinart wrote presciently about the Wallace resemblance. Wallace then, like Trump today, ‘turned protesters into props for an audience hungry to see order restored – if necessary, by force’.

There is arguably no prospect of a Nixon stand-in today because the conservative dogmatism of the other Republican candidates leaves no room for the pragmatism that Trump himself has hinted at – when he’s not promising to ban Muslims from the US, or target terrorists' families, or deport 14 million immigrants. (In Douthat’s words, the other Republican candidates ‘lack a second Nixonian gift: An instinct for the non-ideological character of many American voters, primary voters included.’) John Kasich, who won his home state of Ohio on Tuesday, may be an exception, but Kasich's only hope is to arrive at the Republican convention this summer as the plausible alternative if Trump, who will certainly have a plurality, if not a majority, of delegates, can be dispossessed of the nomination that he and his supporters believe is already his. Trump has already warned about what could happen if he is deprived of the nomination – more violence.

Dana Allin is Editor of Survival, and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Iranian election results spark cautious hope

Elections were held on Friday that fanned hopes for the reform of two stigmatised regimes. The one of perhaps the most global interest concerned scandal-plagued FIFA. To the surprise of many observers, Gianni Infantino was selected as president to replace the suspended Sepp Blatter. Infantino promised change, but many FIFA fans are to see deeds that back up his words.

More significant elections took place in Iran for that country’s 290-member parliament and the Assembly of Experts, 88 senior clerics who select, and ostensibly oversee, the Supreme Leader. The results there, from what was a clean election with 60% participation, saw reformists and pragmatists (to the extent that such labels are meaningful) gain a landslide victory.

The final tally will not be known for several days, and 59 seats will require run-off elections. But the ouster of several leading hardliners and the near-total sweep by supporters of President Hassan Rouhani in the capital city underscores the magnitude of the political shift.

The results were a positive endorsement of Rouhani’s pragmatic leadership and a rejection of the hardline conservatives who have impeded his efforts at domestic reform and who opposed detente with adversaries. In particular, the vote was a referendum on the nuclear deal, which had entered into force just weeks earlier. High expectations on how much and how soon Iran’s economy will reap benefits from the accord may be sharply dashed in the months to come. For now, however, a sense of euphoria reigns. Rouhani has a popular mandate to continue to pursue constructive engagement with Western countries.

At the beginning of the year, when thousands of registered candidates were disqualified, including most of the reformists, it looked like this election would again be rigged in favour of hardliners. The disqualifications left conservatives in many districts facing no opposition. The election results that gave Rouhani supporters – a combination of reformists and so-called ‘moderate conservatives’ – a majority of seats in both the parliament and the Assembly of Experts is thus all the more stunning.

The results do not necessarily foretell positive shifts in Iranian policies. A popular mandate is one thing; a mandate from the Supreme Leader is another. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s deep distrust of the United States augurs against hopes for restored relations anytime soon.

We have seen this movie before, when reformists ruled both the parliament and the presidency in the early years of this century. Hardliners remained in key positions of power, including the Judiciary, the Justice Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards and other security forces, and blocked president Mohammad Khatami’s reform efforts. With those institutions still under hardline control, the system remains rigged. Rouhani has little ability to overturn or even forestall detestable actions by the hardliners, such as keeping dual US-Iranian citizen Siamak Namazi in Evin Prison and then luring his 80-year-old father to Iran and jailing him too.

Nevertheless, Iran’s 26 February election has deep significance. If 75-year-old Khamenei dies during the eight years of the current Assembly of Experts’ term, his successor is now likely to be more moderate. The new parliament will be more supportive of the nuclear deal and less likely to encourage steps that would undermine it.

The Iranian election results stand in sharp to contrast to American popular attitudes towards the deal. A Gallup opinion poll in mid-February found 57% of Americans disapproving of the accord and only 30% approving of it. Every Republican Party presidential candidate thinks that vowing to scrap the deal is a winning hand. If any of them were to be elected and then to carry out that promise, the contrast between images of Iranian electoral moderation and American rejectionism would be jarring, indeed. It could cause one to throw in the towel on US politics and give undivided attention to football.

Mark Fitzpatrick (@FitzpatrickIISS) is Executive Director of IISS–Americas. Read his most recent Survival article, on the virtues of the Iranian nuclear deal, here.

Jonathan Solomon: A conventional dual-track decision for NATO?

The NATO defence-ministerial meetings in February marked a turning point in the Alliance’s handling of the increasing Russian threat to Euro-Atlantic security. For the first time since Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea and subsequent initiation of sponsored insurgencies and then direct intervention in Donbas, NATO’s members have collectively concluded that the Alliance’s two and a half decade-old conventional deterrence posture in Central and Eastern Europe is insufficient to meet the present danger. Consequently, the defence ministers agreed that a larger and persistent ground-force presence must be established in and near the Baltics, as well as elsewhere along NATO’s eastern frontier.

Establishing such a consensus was no small feat. Even after the events of the past two years, not to mention Russia’s 2007 ‘suspension’ of fulfilling its responsibilities under the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty regime, 2008 invasion of Georgia, 2009 and 2013 simulated nuclear attacks against NATO and EU countries, and post-2013 pairings of increasingly belligerent rhetoric with multiple opaque ‘snap’ mobilisations of forces along Europe’s periphery, a divide persisted in the Alliance. Some countries were eager to avoid provoking Moscow or to maintain lucrative relations with Russian businesses; others took this Russian behaviour to signify a new and perilously deep hostility towards the West. The meticulous diplomacy of those who assembled the Alliance’s new consensus should be applauded.

Regrettably, though, the shared understanding that more must be done to deter Russia is not translating into the establishment of a conventional deterrent whose structure and posture is adequate for covering the full spectrum of options by which Russia might challenge the peace. While the Alliance’s defence leaders made it clear that a continuous forward presence in and near the Baltic states, as well as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, will be maintained using multinational rotationally-deployed forces that demonstrate a ‘sharing of the stakes’, they almost certainly will not be sized or composed such that they would have a good chance of bogging down or bloodying a minimal-warning Russian thrust into frontline states. Instead, it appears the expanded forward deterrent will be structured to be a moderately larger ‘tripwire’ force that is meant to do little more than symbolise NATO members’ commitment to ensuring the security of their most vulnerable frontline allies.

There are countless problems with relying entirely upon this kind of conventional deterrence model; Elbridge Colby and I detail many of them in our article in the December 2015–January 2016 issue of Survival. And these problems are exacerbated by the proximity of the Baltic states, Poland and other NATO members to Russia, as well as the sheer numbers of combat-ready forces Russia could quickly mobilise for action against the Alliance. Russian leaders might well come to believe that a fast-moving, discriminate, limited-scale thrust could extract some gains at the expense of one or more embattled ‘frontline’ members of NATO well before forces sufficient to arrest the offensive could be deployed into the conflict zone, and that NATO leaders might opt to accept nuclear-armed Moscow’s newfound spoils as a fait accompli rather than incur the costs and risks of hazarding forcible rollback.

It appears one of the principal factors driving the Alliance’s reluctance to deploy a larger and more combat-capable (and credible) forward deterrent is a desire to adhere to the spirit of the 1997 NATO–Russia Founding Act. It’s worth noting that NATO’s political commitment to refrain from ‘permanent deployments of substantial forces’ in Eastern Europe was implicitly predicated on a ‘current and foreseeable security environment’ in which both Russia and NATO adhered to the CFE treaty and OSCE Vienna Document confidence-and-security-building-measure regimes. Russia’s de facto abrogation of CFE and apparent refusals to adhere to its Vienna Document commitments to promote transparency of its exercises and force mobilisations were most definitely not foreseen by NATO when the Act was concluded. Both the CFE and the Vienna Document regimes were intended to serve as canaries in the coal mine, warning of early moves by any signatory towards a more hostile footing relative to other signatories. NATO leaders must accordingly recognise the deliberate messages sent by the Kremlin’s unilateral dismantling of these reciprocal reassurance mechanisms for what they are.

An additional source feeding the Alliance’s reluctance to establish a more sizeable and capable forward conventional deterrent may be the view that the Kremlin’s leaders are increasingly paranoid about NATO’s intentions. If this is in fact the case, then the Russians are hardly helping themselves by walking away from the CFE regime. If ever there were a Russian doubt regarding the purpose or scale of a particular NATO deployment or exercise, the allowances in the CFE regime for intrusive on-demand inspections could have put Moscow’s concerns to rest. And if Russia wanted to forestall NATO deployments or posture changes in Eastern Europe, then allowing NATO those same inspection courtesies would have been of mutual benefit.

Indeed, as its next step, the Alliance would be wise to assert to Russia that larger deployments of conventional forces along the Eastern European frontier would become unnecessary if Russia and NATO were to conclude a new conventional-arms-control regime establishing verifiable force ceilings in various border regions, stringent exercise-notification and transparency measures, and intrusive on-demand inspection allowances – all under a reaffirmed mutual commitment to the Helsinki Final Act’s security principles. As a means of incentivising Russia to take such an opening seriously and not slow roll negotiations if they were initiated, assuming the Kremlin was politically disposed to do so, the Alliance could declare a dual-track strategy in which negotiations of a new conventional-arms-control regime would proceed while the Alliance simultaneously and incrementally enhanced its permanent force presence in Eastern Europe along the lines proposed in our Survival article. If the Kremlin is serious about ending the cycle of destabilisation of the past two years and establishing a new reciprocal security architecture for Europe, then this NATO gambit would provide it with a major opportunity for doing so.

If, however, Russian leaders’ strategic aims are in fact fundamentally revisionist and in opposition to the Helsinki principles, then their refusal of conventional-arms-control cooperation in Europe would serve as a strong signal of their intentions that NATO’s leaders – and publics – could not rationally ignore. The political foundation would therefore be prepared within the Alliance to complete the full scale of forward force deployments and posture configurations necessary for establishing a truly credible conventional deterrent.

Jonathan Solomon is a senior systems and technology analyst at Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc., and the author, with Elbridge Colby, of the article 'Facing Russia: Conventional Deterrence and Defence in Europe' in the December 2015–January 2016 issue of Survival.

Erik Jones: Democracy without solidarity

There will never be a good and solid constitution unless the law reigns over the hearts of the citizens; as long as the power of legislation is insufficient to accomplish this, laws will always be evaded.’ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1772

You can have the best political institutions in the world, but if the people who live within them do not want to use them properly, then those institutions will not work. The challenge is to make people want to use common institutions properly and to agree on what constitutes proper use. This is the challenge that Jean-Jacques Rousseau tackled in his ‘Considerations on the Government of Poland and on its Proposed Reformation’. It is the same challenge advanced industrial democracies face today, at all levels of government. Moreover, better institutions or ‘structural reforms’ were not the answer for Rousseau and they are not the answer now: ‘Although it is easy, if you wish, to make better laws, it is impossible to make them such that the passions of men will not abuse them as they abused the laws that preceded them.’

When I listen to politicians like Wolfgang Schäuble or Jeroen Dijsselbloem, respectively German and Dutch finance ministers, talk about ‘moral hazard’ and the need for everyone to ‘follow the rules’, I can see immediately that they have not understood the problem that people first have to believe in the rules. And when I hear about politicians like the late German chancellor Helmut Schmidt deriding the need for political vision, saying things like 'people who have visions should see a doctor', then I know we are in trouble. People have to want to follow rules or they will find a way around them. People only want to follow rules if they believe those rules are fair and just; they also have to believe that following the rules is useful. Moreover, ‘following the rules’ restricts freedom and requires discipline. This means that people have to have some justification for collective action and common sacrifice.

When you add this all up – fairness, justice, effectiveness, purpose – you come up with a pretty complicated set of ideas that people need to receive and accept if they are to make institutions function. Maybe ‘vision’ is not the most appropriate metaphor to describe this requirement to explain why politics works the way it does, particularly in a democratic system. ’Ideology’ is probably even more uncomfortable in the modern vernacular. But whatever we call it, we need to come up with some way to get people to believe they are all part of a bigger project. Democracy without solidarity does not work.

Examples of democracy suffering from a lack of solidarity are all around us. As someone who spent a long time studying Belgian politics, my first instinct is to point to the 550 days during which the New Flemish Alliance complicated efforts by the country’s elites to form a government. That crisis only ended when the pressure in government bond markets was intense enough to focus attention on the very bad things that would happen if events spiralled out of control. The debate that took place in the United States Congress over the debt ceiling during the summer of 2011 is another illustration. But as we look more deeply into the functioning of the two Houses of Congress over the past few years, it is easy to see that the debt-ceiling debate is just the tip of the iceberg. As Thomas Mann and Norman Orenstein describe it, the US political system is ‘even worse than it looks’.

The Belgian and US examples show two aspects of the pattern. One is the argument about legitimacy. This is where politicians or protestors claim that the current arrangement is unfair, unjust, ineffective or headed in the wrong direction. Here you can think of just about any stump speech by Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage or Beppe Grillo. Clearly, these speeches resonate with some part of the electorate. Depending upon the country, you can usually mobilise between 15 and 25 percent of the vote around the general message of disenchantment; in some cases the appeal is even broader.

The second aspect is how the message translates into action. This is the part I try to capture with ‘solidarity’ (and its absence). When solidarity weakens or diminishes, people start breaking rules or reinterpreting them in ways that exaggerate the worst features of any institutional arrangement. They begin using exclusive (or offensive) speech patterns, which they justify as a break from the confines of ‘political correctness’. They start dividing the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’. And they find ways to hold the functioning of institutions hostage until their specific concerns are addressed. Such actions are standard practice for Beppe Grillo’s ‘Five Star Movement’ in Italy, but they are also what brought Ted Cruz such notoriety when he entered the US Senate (following UK Independence Party MEP Nigel Farage’s playbook from the European Parliament).

Unfortunately, democratic institutions are not very good at channelling or constraining this kind of disruptive behaviour. On the contrary, democracy thrives in a context where speech is free and institutions operate under ‘checks and balances’. This is the perfect environment for a loss of solidarity to spark a crisis of governance and yet we risk losing the essence of democracy whenever we try to use new rules to proscribe such unruly behaviour. It is a delicate and difficult balance – as you can see by looking at countries like Hungary, Poland and Turkey.

The balance is even harder to find when you look at federal countries or multinational arrangements. It is no accident that the two clearest examples of the problem we face (Belgium and the United States) are both federal countries. But the implications for the European Union are even more dramatic. In the end, I do not see a scenario where the United States collapses into a collection of smaller political units. Even Belgium is showing significant resilience and the New Flemish Alliance is participating in the federal government without demanding further devolution of power to Flanders (for now).

By contrast, the European Union is facing an existential crisis. The knee-jerk European response is always more rules, better enforcement, and structural reform. These are good responses in many situations. Unfortunately, this is not one of them. Too many Europeans do not believe that the rules are just or fair, they do not understand the need for collective sacrifice (or that the sacrifice is truly ‘collective’), and they do not think the solutions being offered are going to be effective. You can see this in debates about macroeconomic policy, financial regulation, migration and the single market. You can see this in the language that is being used to divide Europe into north and south, east and West, creditor and debtor. And you can see that both protest groups (including anti-European parties) and national governments are starting to use the institutions of Europe to jam up the process of governance until they get what they want for themselves.

Europe as a whole is not a democracy but it shares many democratic strengths and weaknesses. Free speech, freedom of assembly, and institutional checks and balances are at the top of both lists. The collapse of solidarity in Europe is threatening to break the union into pieces. If Europe’s politicians don’t start focusing their attention on coming up with an argument to explain how Europeans are all in this together, why they need to work with one another, and where this great project is going, then they will have to live with the consequences of their inaction. This is what David Cameron promised when he raised the whole prospect of a national debate on Europe in his Bloomberg speech. Unfortunately, that conversation has deteriorated into a debate about details rather than focusing on the big picture. National politicians need to tell the big story about Europe if they are to capture ‘the hearts of the citizens’, in Rousseau’s turn of phrase. Whether we call that a ‘vision’, an ‘ideal’, or an ‘ideology’ is less important than winning the argument about Europe’s importance. The same is true for democracy itself.

This blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones (@Erik_Jones_SAIS) is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, and a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Encouraging Arab detente with Iran

At an IISS–Americas event jointly organised and hosted by the US–UAE Business Council on 24 February, I argued that the economic benefits to Iran from the accord over its nuclear programme will, over time, make it a less hostile nation.

As I have previously written, the desire for sanctions relief as soon as possible incentivised Iran to carry out its initial requirements under the nuclear deal, termed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), quicker than most foreign observers thought possible. Finishing it up by mid-January and then striking two other deals on detainees and impounded assets gave President Hassan Rouhani’s government and supporters bragging rights prior to the 26 February elections for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts.

Iranian business with the Western world will not resume quickly. European banks remain cautious about handling transactions with Iran, even those that seem clearly legitimate, lest they fall foul of remaining US sanctions and the fining authority of various US jurisdictions, including not just the US Treasury but also local prosecutors in Manhattan. 

Iran is getting access to unfrozen revenues from oil sales, however. And even though the amount is less than $50 billion – far less than the $150bn figure trumpeted by fact-averse US presidential candidates – it provides immediate help to the Iranian economy. 

To keep the money flowing from new oil sales and to encourage the additional trade and investment it seeks, Iran has a strong incentive to faithfully implement the nuclear deal. Only if new sanctions were imposed that blocked these economic benefits would Iran have reason to break the deal and resume its march toward a quick nuclear-weapons break-out capability. Whoever moves into the White House next January 20 would be foolish to give Iran such an excuse without good cause.  

It is legitimate to ask whether Iran’s ongoing missile development or regional meddling would give such cause. The claim is sometimes made, for example, that Iran has been emboldened by the deal to flex its muscles in the region. For the most part, however, this muscle flexing pre-dates the JCPOA.

Iran’s recent missile tests, while probably not a violation of the current Security Council resolution, which gives Iran arguable leeway on missiles that are not necessarily designed for nuclear-weapons delivery, are particularly worrisome to Iran’s neighbours. In Gulf states there are rumours that President Barack Obama wants to visit Iran before he leaves office. Such a visit is fanciful, unless it were to be tied to a significant ‘deliverable’, such as Iranian agreement to limit its missile tests, something that also seems unlikely.  

With regard to Iran’s regional activities, there is a tendency for exaggeration. Ever since the 1979 Revolution, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been seen as a revisionist actor, exporting its revolution, supporting terrorist groups and seeking to dominate its region. But while the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) still foments trouble, the paradigm is shifting, as Jane Kinninmont writes. In Yemen and Lebanon, Iran continues to support rebels and non-state actors, albeit not as the instigator of trouble in the former. In Syria and Iraq, on the other hand, Iran plays a conservative role, struggling to prop up existing regimes and casting itself as the defender of order, improbable as that may seem.

At a recent IISS workshop with security experts from Iran and GCC states, there was general agreement that reaching the nuclear deal was important. Participants differed, however, in their assessment of its potential impact in other areas. While Iranian participants were optimistic that the deal would stimulate future cooperation on regional issues, Arab participants generally viewed the JCPOA as just ‘buying time’ before Iran resumes a drive in 15 years for nuclear-weapons capabilities. And at that point, Iran will be stronger economically and militarily.

I also worry about Iran’s nuclear capabilities when the JCPOA limits come off. It is therefore vital that the next 15 years not be wasted. Concerted efforts are needed to induce Iran to become a better neighbour. The deal can help, because every year that it is faithfully implemented will help to create trust that the nuclear programme is peaceful.

The troubles in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon will be hard to resolve without first overcoming the enmity between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Reconciliation will likely be harder for the Saudis, who view Iran as an existential threat, given its larger population, economy and size in addition to its threatening rhetoric and adventurism. Iranians do not have a mirror image of Saudi Arabia. They may not like or respect the kingdom, but they do not fear it. Iran is thus more ready to compromise on Yemen and to reach a modus vivendi with respect to Lebanon. While Alawite-controlled Syria is deemed to be vital, Iran should be able to manage differences regarding Iraq and Bahrain.  

For the United States, upholding the JCPOA will help foster conditions that would allow for Iran-Saudi detente. Firstly, economic improvement will enhance the relative power of Rouhani and other pragmatists. Secondly, as Richard Nephew argues, to the extent that Iran feels less isolated and more secure, it is more likely to take a constructive approach to regional issues.

It was not expected that the JCPOA would bring quick changes to Iran’s behaviour at home or abroad. Supporters of the deal anticipated, rather, that the regime would continue to be a dangerous and repressive. Hardliners would fight back to try to keep Rouhani from becoming too powerful. Over time, though, and probably in the span of the 15-year JCPOA, generational and social transitions are coming to the Islamic Republic.

There will be ups and downs, and tensions could get worse. The key, as Nephew put it, is to ensure that Iran understands that, while it has a place in the region, it will not be permitted to dominate. Washington must demonstrate that it will not abandon its partners or interests in the Middle East, or its values. While firmly pushing back on IRGC meddling, the US should meanwhile encourage its partners to seek detente. 

Mark Fitzpatrick (@FitzpatrickIISS) is Executive Director of IISS–Americas. His article ‘Iran: A Good Deal’ appeared in the October–November 2015 issue of Survival.

Dana H. Allin: Out of New Hampshire, and out of control?

In late 2010, the writer Peter Beinart compared the expanding Tea Party conquest of the Republican Party to what had happened to Democrats after Vice President Hubert Humphrey lost narrowly to Richard Nixon in 1968. ‘[B]etween 1968 and 1972, grassroots activists—many of them incubated in the anti-war movement—took over the Democratic Party, state by state. In 1970, activists rewrote Michigan’s party platform so that it advocated reparations to North Vietnam. In Washington state, they demanded amnesty for draft evaders and a ban on the building of missiles.’ George McGovern, the Democratic nominee in 1972, was really a conventional, Midwestern liberal in the mould of Humphrey – and a Second World War hero to boot – but he was driven left by the zeal of this movement and his own anger about the truly senseless war in Vietnam. My own most vivid memory of the campaign is how the McGovern team lost operational control of the Democratic nominating convention; the candidate had to deliver his acceptance speech well after midnight. Nixon, running for re-election, trounced the hapless Democrat, who lost every state except Massachusetts

Riding anger at Barack Obama’s election and re-election, the Tea Party has advanced impressively in Congress, with the elections of very right-wing representatives and senators including Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. But it has proven an inadequate vessel to contain the anger – fear and loathing, really – which has now metastasised into the phenomenon of Donald Trump. Republican leaders, to their credit, are genuinely dismayed by Trump’s reckless demagoguery, which could further poison America’s already polarised politics and ruin the country’s reputation. But they are also worried about his heterodox opinions, which are attracting lower-middle-class whites who resent multi-racial liberalism but who also are unmoved by conventional conservative orthodoxies: low marginal tax rates; a diminished welfare state; unfettered free markets including free trade; and, at least implicitly, a large supply of cheap immigrant labour. Marco Rubio, with his strong third place in Iowa, seemed like the conventional conservative who could defeat Trump and run a credible campaign against Hillary Clinton. But Rubio suffered a humiliating meltdown during Saturday’s Republican debate, seeming to confirm whispered rumours about his un-readiness; he took fifth place in New Hampshire behind Trump, John Kasich, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, and it’s not clear that he can recover.

Trump’s populist victory was matched, of course, by the populist triumph of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side. There are varieties of populism, and I personally find the Sanders version more attractive. If anything, however, it is less viable as a political project. If Trump were to become president, unlikely but not impossible, he almost certainly would preside over Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress, and the only obstacle to legislation would be his ability to reach a coherent consensus with those majorities. A President Sanders, as I wrote last week, would face implacable opposition from at least a Republican House of Representatives. A President Sanders remains unlikely, even less likely than a President Trump. Sanders did well in two states – Iowa and New Hampshire – that play to his strengths because their Democrats are overwhelmingly white and relatively left wing. The contest moves on now to states where Hillary Clinton can draw on strong black and Hispanic support. She sounded rousing and confident in her concession speech last night. Still, her campaign must be – at least should be – unnerved by the revolt of left-leaning youth, who, like their long-haired parents (and grandparents!) in 1969, are uninterested in lectures about electoral viability. Democratic leaders must have at least a faint worry that their party, like the Republican Party, is out of control.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Dana H. Allin: Sanders and Trump

Donald Trump won the Nevada caucus last night by a 20-point margin. Polls show that he is likely to triumph in the 12 states and one territory holding their contests together on ‘Super Tuesday’ next week. If that happens, he won’t be unstoppable in the Republican nomination campaign, but it is not easy to see how he will be stopped.

Something big and dark is happening in American politics. Parallels have been drawn to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ left–populist insurgency in the Democratic primary contest against Hillary Clinton. I have written about Sanders’ lack of realism and there are, to be sure, deep currents of unrest across the ideological spectrum – a sociological phenomenon to which I will return in later reflections.

Before falling for any kind of lazy symmetry, however, it is worth remembering what these respective rabble-rousers are actually saying. Trump excited his crowd last week with a speech containing the (almost certainly invented) story that General John Pershing dealt with an early twentieth-century rebellion in the Philippines by lining up 50 Muslim insurgents, dipping bullets in pigs’ blood, and shooting 49 of them. The Sanders version of this war-crime advocacy is … free education in state universities.

Also, Trump is winning, while Sanders is very likely to lose.

Dana Allin is Editor of Survival, and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Matthew Harries: To keep Britain in the EU, avoid the Emma Thompson trap

The idea that Britain matters is something that matters to the British. In fact, it is an idea that might take Britain out of the European Union. When the actor Emma Thompson joked that she came from a tiny, ‘misery-laden, cake-filled’ island, she made the front page of the Sun. Britons, self-deprecating or not, do not like being made to feel small, and the notion that it is the UK that needs the EU, rather than the other way around, sometimes goes down very badly.

The post-imperial decline of Britain from great power to well-armed economic light-heavyweight is a truth that can be spoken only in certain contexts. It is the reality that shapes UK defence and foreign policy, yet adjustment to material decline is only acceptable if it denies any reduction in status. ‘Britain’s national interest requires us to reject any notion of the shrinkage of our influence’, insisted the 2010 national-security strategy, as if shrinkage could be prevented so long as it was not admitted. Meanwhile, the defence review of the same year, conducted by a government committed to fierce cuts in public spending, shrank Britain’s effective military firepower by some 20% or more.

An acceptance of smallness implicitly defines the biggest diplomatic initiative of the current Conservative government: the economic opening to China. Guided by Chancellor George Osborne it is a pitch that subordinates geopolitical independence to economic necessity. China’s market for British services and its ready cash for infrastructure investment, along with the prospect of London becoming the global centre for trading in the renminbi, are the prize. The price appears to be a softer tone on Chinese assertiveness in the East and South China seas, human rights abuses, Hong Kong and Tibet, and living with Chinese participation in sensitive national projects, such as the building of new nuclear reactors.

Osborne’s gamble is rooted in cold self-assessment: a country of Britain’s economic profile needs what China has to offer, and needs it badly enough that freedom of action in foreign policy may have to suffer. And, after all, when hard foreign-policy interests are truly on the line, Britain may yet muster the nerve to stand up.  But, for the moment, it looks and feels ugly. The UK rolled out the red carpet for President Xi Jinping on the day that Tata Steel announced 1,200 British job losses, blaming cheap Chinese imports. The ingratiating ceremony of Xi’s visit earned the UK a brief respite from the Chinese Global Timesmockery of Britain as an old-Europe mausoleum fit only for tourism and to house overseas students.

The UK’s rumbling debate about its nuclear weapons shows how difficult it can be to speak in frank terms about national smallness. Both sides appear convinced that Britain punches above its weight. Trident’s advocates often overstate the difference a marginal addition of 200-odd British nuclear weapons makes to NATO’s deterrent power, given that the Americans, to whom European allies look ultimately for protection, possess several thousand. But Trident’s opponents tend to suffer from delusions of moral grandeur, believing that disarmament will, through the sheer force of British reasonableness, grease the skids of international negotiations towards a nuclear-free world.

The most plausible trigger for British nuclear disarmament, should it ever happen, is a government’s explicit decision to embrace a different, and probably smaller, role in the structure of international security. Yet even Trident’s most committed opponents generally reach either for moral arguments, or ones of cost and military effectiveness. The national-status argument is politically toxic. Former prime minister Tony Blair, who oversaw the 2007 vote to renew Trident, recalled in his memoirs: 

I could see clearly the force of the common sense and practical argument against Trident, yet in the final analysis I thought giving it up too big a downgrading of our status as a nation and … too big a risk for our defence … As I said to [chancellor Gordon Brown]: imagine standing up in the House of Commons and saying I've decided to scrap it.  We're not going to say that, are we?’

What does this have to do with the British referendum on Europe? The case is already being made that the pro-EU camp needs to make an emotional, passionate appeal in order to compete with the grassroots energy of the Leave campaign. This is supposedly the lesson from the Scottish independence referendum, in which a fired-up nationalist operation ran a cautious, risk-based Unionist campaign close. And it must surely be admitted that the case for Remain has a serious disadvantage in the overwhelming dullness of EU affairs.

The need for an uplifting emotional narrative may be overstated. Scotland stayed in the Union, after all, and the conventional (though not unchallenged) wisdom has it that negative campaigning works. But there is nevertheless a trap here, which Emma Thompson fell into and which the Remain campaign must avoid. Leaving aside the political and social importance of a healthy Europe, Britain’s economic interest in remaining part of the EU stems, to put it bluntly, from its own national smallness. The UK could not credibly hope, as a single state, to negotiate its way to the same favourable conditions it enjoys as an EU member. But the EU’s supporters will have to make this argument carefully.

The emotional pull of British euroscepticism, at least on the right, is fundamentally about British power – specifically, restoring power supposedly ceded to Brussels. A case for the EU that talks down the UK’s influence, accurately or not, plays into its opponents’ hands. The Remain campaign may not need a vision of hope and change, but it does need to speak the language of British strength.

Matthew Harries (@harries_matthew) is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS.

Elizabeth Pond: Gunfight at the Ukraine Corral

2016 promises to be a decisive year for Ukraine. The sudden resignation on 3 February of Economics Minister Aivaras Abromavicius – and the immediate sharp fall of Ukraine's sovereign bonds – suggest that the showdown is at hand, much sooner than expected.

The country faces a stark choice. Its second civil-society uprising in a decade could dissolve into infighting among oligarchs, as the first one did. Or, with the help of its free-trade and association agreements with the European Union that finally entered into force on 1 January – along with Washington's newfound interest in diplomatic engagement – it could at last begin to enact the reforms needed to consolidate its fledgling democracy.

The departure of Abromavicius, one of Ukraine's leading technocrat reformers, was in response to what he said was pressure from Ihor Kononenko, the deputy head of President Petro Poroshenko's parliamentary faction, to name his own lieutenants as Abromavicius's deputy and as head of a major state-owned enterprise. The economics minister said in a statement that he had 'no wish to be a cover for open corruption or puppets under the control of those who want to establish control over state money in the style of the old authorities'.

The key deciders now will be the Ukrainian oligarchs, who have shunned state-building in the past and concentrated instead on funding and controlling the evanescent political parties that operate as clientelistic personal networks. The deciding issue will be the reform of the kleptocracy that remains not just a parasite on governance but, as in Russia, the very driver of post-Soviet systems of neo-feudal governance.

The oligarchs left at the top of the heap after two years of Russian President Vladimir Putin's undeclared war on Ukraine are President Poroshenko and Dnipropetrovsk baron Ihor Kolomoisky. Poroshenko is the sixth-richest Ukrainian, with an estimated wealth of just under $1 billion, according to Kiev's Novoye Vremya. From the beginning, he has supported the 2013–14 'Euromaidan' protests against authoritarian rule and their demands for a shift from East Slav fraternity with Russia to a new European identity. He was elected president of embattled Ukraine by 55% in first-round voting in May 2014, when memories of the shooting of a group of protestors known as the 'Heavenly Hundred' by the special police of then-president Victor Yanukovich in February, and the disgraced president's subsequent flight to Russia, were still fresh.

Poroshenko's rival for power is oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, the second-richest Ukrainian, with an estimated wealth of just under $2bn. He returned from his Swiss residence to become the official governor of his personal stronghold of Dnipropetrovsk just as Putin was completing the annexation of Crimea in March 2014. He was the most lavish benefactor in 2014 of the volunteer militias that held off the vastly better-armed Russian/separatist troops in and near the Donbass until the ragtag Ukrainian army could be reconstituted following its budgetary strangulation under Yanukovich. According to the New York Times, a deal was made at that point promising oligarchs that they could keep their wealth if they remained loyal to Ukraine.

At present, both men are too weak to knock the other out. Poroshenko won their first public duel in March 2015, when he fired Kolomoisky from his political post as Dnipropetrovsk governor after the latter, along with 40 or 50 armed men, burst into the headquarters of the 51% state-owned UkrTransNafta pipeline firm in Kiev to try to reinstate a dismissed CEO who was allied to him. That clash paralleled efforts to bring volunteer militias under the aegis of Ukraine's official armed forces and helped to establish in the 25-year-young state of Ukraine, at least in principle, the Weberian precept that a state must have a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force.

Their second public brawl was more of a draw. Last October, a 500-man SWAT team detained Hennadiy Korban, Kolomoisky's deputy in Dnipropetrovsk and head of Kolomoisky's newly established pro-Ukrainian Dill Party (as distinct from his newly established pro-Russian Renaissance Party). Korban was first jailed on suspicion of kidnapping and embezzlement. He was released three days later, then consigned to house arrest, then to custody in a hospital, where he underwent surgery. Little has been heard about him since. Poroshenko supporters see the detention as a sign of the president's seriousness about fighting corruption and organised crime. Kolomoisky supporters see it as a political vendetta.

For the sake of Ukraine’s democratic evolution, the relative lull in fighting in the Donbass (Putin dialled down the violence in September, turning his attention to Syria) is good news. This gives Kiev the breathing space to continue with urgently needed economic, administrative and legal reforms. Unlike mainstream Western analysts, who continued to warn for months that the lull in eastern Ukraine was only a tactical trick, the Ukrainians sensed instantly that Putin was finally retreating from his Ukrainian quagmire.

The lowered intensity of fighting is also bad news for democratic prospects, however, as the respite from Russian pressure has freed Poroshenko and Kolomoisky from their two-year compulsion to hang together in order to avoid hanging separately. It has allowed them to resume power struggles in redistributing the assets of declining oligarchs and stiffened their resistance to the uprooting of endemic corruption that might conceivably redound upon themselves.  

This shift in atmosphere has triggered fear among reformers that today's 'Revolution of Dignity' might repeat the failure of the pioneering Orange Revolution, the leaders of which, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and President Victor Yushchenko, quarrelled bitterly after attaining power. Their mutual hostility paralysed the government, alienated voters, and delivered the presidency to old-regime Victor Yanukovich in a reasonably fair election in 2010.

The fears of Euromaidan activists are compounded by concern over popular-reform fatigue and the populism that caters to it. MPs from the new Self Reliance party and Tymoshenko's Fatherland party, among others, are manoeuvring to call a vote of non-confidence in the government and force early parliamentary elections in the spring that would favour their parties. A snap vote only a year and a half after the first post-Yanukovych election would certainly add turmoil and weaken the main parliamentary reform parties, those of President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Reforms such as hikes in consumer prices (even with offsetting subsidies for Ukraine’s poorest citizens) have reached the point of stirring up the greatest discontent, and public-approval ratings have now sunk to 25% for Poroshenko and 12% (some polls say only 2%) for Yatsenyuk. Meanwhile, a full 70% of Ukrainians think their country's general situation is getting worse. Even now, Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk are unable to muster the two-thirds parliamentary majority that the constitution requires to approve key decentralisation measures in eastern Ukraine that are needed to keep the German- and French-sponsored 'Minsk' peace process on course.

Reformers hope to avert a regression to oligarchic business as usual by getting the West to apply pressure for enforcing last year's raft of anti-graft legislation and to offer incentives by granting Ukrainians visa-free travel to the EU. This would reprise the EU’s approach to the 11 post-communist Central European states that were eventually permitted to partake of the peace and prosperity of Western Europe’s premier club of nations following the Cold War. To accelerate domestic evolution toward good governance in these countries, Brussels mixed the top-down co-option of local elites with the bottom-up fostering of proto-democratic civil society in what a Swiss-initiated interdisciplinary study has called functional cooperation.   

Implementing this reform process in Central Europe was hard enough. Attempting to do so in Ukraine, which has had little exposure to western European democratic culture, and without even offering the lure of eventual EU membership this time around, presents an even greater challenge. Nevertheless, such reform remains a hope of the robust Euromaidan movement spawned by the 2013–14 protests in Kiev.

Indeed, the tacit partnership between the EU and Ukrainian reformers has already begun its work. Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko drums in the message at every opportunity that Ukraine will not attract Western investors unless it cleans up its act. Young MPs in Poroshenko's party, such as former investigative journalists Mustafa Nayyem and Serhiy Leshchenko, make incriminating documents public to name and shame officials as they find evidence of corruption and political blockage of criminal prosecution and judicial lustration. NGOs such as Kiev's Centre of Legal and Political Reform press the case for dismissing Chief Prosecutor Viktor Shokin, a holdover from the old regime's procuracy who was promoted to the top by Poroshenko and who is now seen by many as the main obstacle to investigation and indictments in high-level corruption cases. When reformers like these run into a brick wall, the EU applies conditionality, informing Kiev that the introduction of visa-free travel for Ukrainians to Europe will be postponed until Kiev's proclaimed anti-corruption drive actually starts putting senior offenders behind bars. American officials such as US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and Vice President Joe Biden have also joined the fight by exerting public pressure on President Poroshenko to start implementing anti-graft legislation by firing Shokin. On 3 February, 10 ambassadors, among them those of the US, Canada and the EU, signed a bluntly worded public statement saying, 'We are deeply disappointed by the resignation of ... Abromavicius who has attained true results of reforms in Ukraine'.

So far, this double-pronged campaign has manifestly failed to persuade Poroshenko to replace Shokin, whose influence derives both from the wide competences vested in the chief prosecutor under the patched-up constitution and from Shokin's personal memory of skeletons in political closets. But Shokin's tenure, along with the wrestling match between Economics Minister Abromavicius and the Western underwriters of Ukraine's financial bailout on one side and President Poroshenko and Kolomoisky on the other, pose the most immediate test of what Tomas Fiala, CEO of Kiev's Dragon Capital, has called Ukraine’s much-needed 'deoligarchization'.

Having invested so much political and monetary capital into saving Ukraine from Putin's assault, the EU in particular has a huge stake in the outcome. Besides wielding the stick of conditionality –with the implicit threat that ultimately some tranches of this year's $40bn of pledged international aid might be held back in case of serious breaches of agreed programmes – the EU will be sending a corps of on-the-ground advisers to Ukraine to help with everything from small-business promotion to political-party formation to rule-of-law basics.

There are no guarantees. Even this massive Western engagement and functional cooperation with Euromaidan activists in building a new, European Ukraine could well get ground down by the stubborn inertia of the country's kleptocracy. If this happens, the country’s reformers are unlikely to get a third chance to clean up Ukraine’s economy and politics for a very long time.

Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist and author. She has contributed several articles to Survival, most recently ‘Will Ukraine Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory?’, in vol. 57, no. 6, December–January 2015, pp. 59–68.

Dana H. Allin: Iowa and theories of politics

If the metric is which party at least marginally improved its chances of winning the presidency next November, then Republicans had a better night in Iowa. They improved their chances not because Texas Senator Ted Cruz beat Donald Trump for first place in the Iowa caucus – both men constitute prima facie electoral disasters for the GOP – but because of the strong third place showing of Senator Marco Rubio.

Young, Hispanic, well-spoken – Rubio looks like the computer-generated model of what the Republicans need to counter their demographic problem as the party of aging whites in a rapidly diversifying America. Given their nightmare of a primary campaign so far, Rubio’s achievement of almost beating Trump for second place is the first good news for a party establishment that desperately wants to wrest the contest back from Trump’s demagogic insurgency and Cruz’s absolutism.

This is not to say that the Democrats’ virtual tie was a bad outcome for Hillary Clinton. Dispatching Senator Bernie Sanders would have felt better, but would not have solved a big Clinton problem, which is a kind of uneasy feeling that she has been anointed as Democratic nominee without enough competition to test and improve her political performance.

She is now going to have to fight at least somewhat longer. Sanders, from neighbouring Vermont, is the heavy favourite to win the New Hampshire primary next week. But Iowa and New Hampshire are unusual states, much whiter and, in the odd case of Iowa, at the same time more liberal, among Democrats, and more conservative, among Republicans, than the country at large.

Sanders’s pitch highlights another problem for Clinton. She is running for Obama’s third term. This is always difficult – ask Al Gore – but in the current polarised America it means something very specific and, for Sanders’s youthful supporters, quite dispiriting. Hers is a not-very-glamorous promise to defend the significant but reversible gains of the Obama presidency. These include the nuclear agreement with Iran, Obamacare and environmental regulations that put the United States in a position to meet its Paris commitments for international action to avoid the most catastrophic scenarios of climate change. These are hugely important, and Clinton the realist argues that it will be a tough enough fight to defend them.

Sanders, the self-styled democratic socialist, says it’s not enough. He is calling not for defending hard-fought gains but for transforming the US into a Scandinavian-style welfare state, with single-payer national health insurance, free university education and pledging to launch an assault on the political privileges of the very wealthy that he sees driving massive disparities of income and wealth.

His theory of politics for how this will transpire is, in a word, preposterous. He believes in a voter-driven political revolution, but how – in the unlikely event of his election as president – he would get any legislation through what is sure to remain a Republican-controlled House of Representatives is not explained by his theory.

Here is one – but really only one – point of comparison with Cruz, the winner of the Republican caucus. Cruz is literally despised by fellow Republican senators, and other elites, for a number of reasons, but prominent among them was volcanic posturing that played to angry conservatives’ ignorance about the constitutional limits to enacting a right-wing agenda when the President of the United States is a liberal Democrat.

Ironically, however, that right-wing enactment could be within reach, and it probably doesn’t matter whether the candidate is Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. Both are running on a promise to repeal Obamacare, abandon the nuclear agreement, and end the new regulations on carbon emissions. Now, taking away the health insurance from millions of Americans who have no alternative might seem politically daunting. Abandoning a nuclear deal to which American allies and partners are firmly committed would be diplomatically daunting. But there is pent-up conservative demand to do these things, campaign promises are usually a good guide to a new president’s agenda, and if Republicans win the White House they will almost certainly hold on to both houses of Congress. Last night’s caucus was the first test of a significant election.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Erik Jones: Obama’s Last State of the Union

Leadership through partnership works; democracy without solidarity does not. These are two of the central arguments Barack Obama makes in his eighth and final State of the Union address as president of the United States. The first argument builds on the premise that the United States cannot lead by trying to do everything itself; it has to make sure ‘other countries pull their own weight’. The second rests on the idea that ‘democracy does require the basic bonds of trust between its citizens.’ Isolated like this, these claims seem self-evident. In the context of a US presidential election, they are controversial. Indeed, American presidential candidates have been fighting over these issues at least since Barack Obama rose to political prominence. This explains in large measure why the United States is so conflicted over the conduct of its foreign policy and so polarised in its domestic political discourse.

Think back to 2004. George W. Bush was incumbent president; John Kerry was his Democratic opponent. And Barack Obama was a state senator from Illinois invited to address the Democratic National Convention. Obama gave a keynote speech that in many ways overshadowed the one that Kerry gave in accepting the nomination. The argument Obama made was that: ‘alongside our famous individualism, there is another ingredient in the American saga: a belief we are connected as one people’. This is the passage that introduced Obama’s claim that the American people are not divided by ideology or ethnicity, they are united in their reliance on self-initiative as underpinned by limited government. Nevertheless, Obama admitted, political operatives see advantage in dividing up the electorate and pitting one group against another. This analysis proved more insightful than Obama’s calls for hope to triumph over cynicism. Bush went on to defeat Kerry in a polarising and divisive election.

That 2004 campaign was a rarity insofar as it focused on national security. Most US presidential elections turn on the state of the domestic economy. And it was in the domain of foreign policy that the argument about leadership through partnership became important. To understand this point it is necessary to accept that no serious contender for the office of the president can deny the inevitability of US global leadership. A few candidates like Ron Paul can insist that the United States should retreat from its global role, and yet they are the exceptions that prove the rule. Candidates who aspire to win the office are restricted to debating the meaning of global leadership. And Kerry learned quickly that his room for interpretation was limited. He argued that true leadership is when you persuade your allies of the correctness of your policies and so convince them to support your objectives. Bush countered that leadership is doing what you think is right no matter what others might believe; if that means going it alone, then so be it. The media jumped on Kerry for giving foreigners an implicit veto over America’s pursuit of its own national interest – the ‘global test’ is what they called Kerry’s definition of leadership. Exit pollsters say the voters agreed with this assessment; although many foreign observers found it hard to imagine, Bush attracted more confidence (and votes) for his conduct of foreign policy.

Less than three years later, Obama was a candidate for the Democratic nomination. The factor that differentiated him from the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, was his staunch opposition to the Iraq War launched by the first George W. Bush administration. Obama built on this record by fleshing out a foreign policy based on comprehensive engagement. He promised to rely heavily on diplomacy; he would even talk with long-term enemies like Cuba and Iran. Obama also built a massive campaign organisation around the idea of using hope to counter cynicism. He promised change that would unite all Americans so that the United States could lead by the example of its politics. This strategy was not immediately successful. Clinton argued that Obama was naive to want to speak with foreign dictators; they would only manipulate him for propaganda victories and so create an impression of American weakness. Both Clinton and, later, Republican nominee John McCain argued that Obama used words like ‘hope’ to mask his uniquely elitist form of cynicism. McCain’s campaign ran an ad underscoring Obama’s global ‘celebrity’ and McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, used her folksy manner to mock Obama’s ‘hopey-changey thing’. When Russia invaded Georgia, the idea of using diplomacy sounded like weakness and equivocation. The race tightened until the sudden onset of economic crisis gave Obama a decisive advantage.

The next seven years have seen Obama return to the themes of leadership through partnership and democracy with solidarity time and again. His success in winning the argument has been partial at best. Often events have conspired against his initiatives. For example, Obama’s opening to the Muslim world through successive speeches in Ankara and Cairo was eclipsed by the Arab Spring. His attempts to create a dialogue with Iran appeared even less successful. Neither the ‘reset’ with Russia nor the ‘pivot’ to Asia had the desired effect. Nevertheless, Obama remained true to the understanding of US global leadership that he inherited from Kerry. He has pushed for engagement and relied on diplomacy first. Obama articulated this view most forcefully in the address he gave on 28 March 2011 to explain US involvement in Libya to the American people. This is where he first articulated the view that true leadership involves creating the conditions within which your friends and allies can carry their own weight. It was more successful as an argument than a policy; Obama does not mention Libya in his most recent State of the Union address, probably because the Republicans are using the conduct of US Libya policy to criticise Hillary Clinton’s performance as secretary of state.

Obama’s efforts to promote democracy with solidarity have been even more mixed. The problem is that solidarity means more than just one thing. Where Obama has pursued compromise, he has had to accept increasing inequality in income and opportunity; where he has pursued greater equality, he has faced disciplined partisan opposition. This is not a necessary trade-off in democratic theory; it is something that has mutated within America’s political DNA. If anything, the United States has become more polarised and more divided during the seven years that Obama has been president. Whether his successive administrations have been the cause of that polarisation or just another of its victims is irrelevant. Division is a more central part of the State of the Union now than at any time in recent memory. Hence the real question is what needs to be done to make that situation change.

Obama’s final State of the Union address is important because it is a recommitment to action. He outlines the principles for sustainable US global leadership and he reminds us of the conditions for democratic stability. These things are not self-evident in American politics. On the contrary, they are areas of profound disagreement. Changing that fact is not something that can be done in one or even two presidential administrations. People are slow to abandon their beliefs, particularly when those beliefs correspond with self-interest, and events tend to get in the way. Hence this speech should be read as a call to action that will have to be undertaken over the longer term and on a grassroots basis. What Obama does not mention is that this kind of effort is required across democratic societies, and not just in the United States.

This blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones (@Erik_Jones_SAIS) is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, and a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. 

Mark Fitzpatrick: The Iran deal shows its worth

Although nothing US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry do passes without vitriol from political opponents, 16 January was a very good day for US-Iranian diplomacy. Most importantly, it was ‘Implementation Day’ for the Iran nuclear accord.  Release of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and four other detained US-Iran dual citizens was an important added bonus. Besides the humanitarian and justice angles, it removes one of the strongest arguments I have heard from ‘heartland’ Americans about why the nuclear deal should not have been limited to the nuclear realm.

Verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran has carried out its initial requirements under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) means that Iran cannot produce weapons-usable fissile material in less than a year, giving ample time for detection. The region and the wider world are safer as a result. The benefits from this outcome having been achieved peacefully cannot be overstated. For the foreseeable future, there is no more prospect of Iran with the bomb or a bombing of Iran that would likely have spurred nuclearisation anyway.

Three nuclear-rollback tasks were key. Dismantlement of the core of the Arak reactor took away the potential plutonium path to nuclear weapons. Removal of 14,000 centrifuges and export of 98% of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium blocked a weapons path via highly enriched uranium. Iran also took other steps in accordance with the JCPOA, including shipping out 40 tonnes of excess heavy water.

Such a rollback of capabilities is relatively rare in arms-control history. Capping of capabilities is more often the norm, such as when states agree not to produce additional fissile material or to conduct additional nuclear tests. In Iran’s case, it kept many of its basic capabilities, putting off by 15 years the right to expand them unhindered. The 14,000 centrifuges removed from Natanz and Fordow, for example, are being kept in storage, for use as replacements in the interim.  Yet they were removed with such speed that many of the machines will have been damaged in the process. The rollback of Iran’s capabilities is thus even greater than what was agreed in the JCPOA.

Iran did not take these steps out of good will, of course.  It desperately sought the sanctions relief that was dependent on it taking these actions. Most immediately, Iran will be able to access about $56bn in impounded oil-sale profits – not the $150bn figure touted by American opponents of the deal. Restrictions on oil sales that were costing $150m/day are removed. All nuclear-related UN and EU sanctions are now lifted, and many US sanctions are suspended.

The sanctions lift comes with strings, however, because most Western businesses will be cautious about resuming business with Iran until they are certain they would not be subject to lingering US penalties. Given the multifarious nature of US sanctions, it will be some time before foreign firms can be so assured. Banks, which have faced the steepest fines, will be among the most cautious.  And the absence of reliable banking channels means other businesses will have no way to repatriate profits.

At a 14 January IISS workshop on the impact of the JCPOA on sanctions, we heard, for example, that because U-turn monetary transactions are still prohibited, business with Iran cannot be carried out in dollars, the currency that underpins the global economy. Foreign subsidiaries of US firms that have any overlapping connection with the home office could also be subject to the prohibitions on US persons doing business with Iran. Only small foreign firms or those based in countries such as Russia that have no connections with the United States will be able to freely conduct business with Iran. But most Iranians do not want to be limited to such markets. They seek Western technology and commercial goods.

The lingering impact of US sanctions may not become apparent for some time. In the meantime, the exuberance that Iranians feel on the announcement of sanctions relief will help stimulate the economy. 

Iranians will also feel happy that seven of their citizens who were convicted by the US or pending trial were offered clemency in exchange for the release of the detained Americans. The implied balance in this ‘prisoner swap’ is distasteful. While the Iranians had been tried in fair and transparent courts for breaking export-control laws, the detained Americans had been detained on trumped-up political charges. And the export-control laws remain in place, even though the nuclear programme for which the procurements were intended is legitimised. Still, it is not a bad price to pay. It also shows that the Iran deal can reap benefits in other areas.

The release of the detained Americans has another bright side in that it shows that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, is not opposed to efforts to improve US-Iran relations. As Iran’s Guardian Jurist under the Velayat-e-Faqih concept, his approval was necessary to commute the sentences imposed by Iran’s judiciary. 

All aspects of Implementation Day should thus be celebrated. Obama’s critics ought to take a breather for at least one day.

Mark Fitzpatrick (@FitzpatrickIISS) is Executive Director of IISS–Americas. His most recent article for Survival, written after the signing of the Iran nuclear deal, appeared in the October–November 2015 issue. Read ‘Iran: A Good Deal’ here.

Erik Jones: EU in crisis? Blame the single market, not Schengen and the euro

When critics want to explain why the European Union (EU) is in crisis, they usually point to the euro or the Schengen Agreement. These are areas of vital national sovereignty, they argue. A government without a currency cannot preserve its national competitiveness, and has no status as a lender of last resort. A government that cannot monitor its borders cannot stem the flow of illegal workers, criminals and terrorists. There is merit to both of these arguments, but they miss the deeper point. Europe’s problems do not originate in money or migrants; they stem from the single market.

The completion of Europe’s internal market is the crowning achievement of integration; it has done more than anything else to promote peace and prosperity from Iceland to the Baltic states, and from Norway to Turkey. Moreover, as those reference points suggest, the benefits of the internal market extend far beyond the EU itself. To claim that Europe’s crisis originates in the common market is not to detract from Europe’s accomplishments. Any transformation so great is bound to have unintended consequences. In Europe’s case, those consequences are important.

Consider the free movement of capital. European governments chose to liberalise cross-border capital movements in order to foster development and to finance the retirement costs of an ageing population. These motivations appear time and again in official reports associated with building a common market for European financial services, stretching back to the 1980s.

In practical terms, the goal of financing pensions through productive investment meant that Irish and Spanish real estate markets would boom on the back of German and Dutch savings. It also meant that Europe would witness the rapid growth of multinational banking giants like Dexia, Fortis, HBOS and Unicredit. Tiny countries like Cyprus, Iceland, Luxembourg and Malta could find a profitable niche in this new financial environment.

The problem is that capital flowed in all directions, not just from countries with surplus savings into countries looking to finance development. Some of that money moved from poor countries to rich countries; some also left Europe to head across the Atlantic. Worse, even relatively modest flows of cross border investments quickly accumulated in large stocks of assets. The European financial crisis started when the collapse of sub-prime lending in the United States imposed losses on the big European banks. It worsened as European investors switched to focusing on protecting their capital rather than looking for the highest rate of interest. With surprising speed, Europeans liquidated their foreign assets and repatriated their investments.

As European cross-border financial markets disintegrated, national governments struggled to mitigate the damage and prevent a full-blown panic. Whether the existence of the euro made this struggle more difficult is debatable, but it was the functioning of Europe’s internal market that gave rise to these ‘sudden stop’ dynamics. The sudden repatriation of assets not only cut deeply into the total amount of European savings, but also put a halt to financing for development.

Now think about the free movement of labour. Europe has always had cross-border migrants. Otherwise it would not have politicians like Nicolas Sarkozy or Elio Di Rupo. Some mixing is only to be expected on such a small continent. The genius of the internal market is to give cross-border labour flows some kind of structure. This way, money invested in developing skills in one country is not wasted because a person decides to live elsewhere. A Dutch lawyer should not have to stop practicing law just because he or she moves to Spain. The internal market also makes it easier to ensure continuous coverage in terms of healthcare and other benefits. And it helps to create a competitive cross-border market for skilled labour.

The results are not perfect. It is still hard (if not impossible) to consolidate pensions earned in different countries, for example. But the results are better than found in other countries on a number of dimensions. Here you might think of the retraining required for a barber to move from Indiana to Illinois, or a lawyer to move from New York to Texas. Of course there is always some retraining involved in moving from one market to another. The recognition of qualifications only makes life easier, not perfect. Moreover, European labour markets remain inefficient. Here you only need to ask why there is so much more unemployment in Sicily than in Emilia-Romagna. Inefficiency is as much a problem within countries as between them. Nevertheless, the current arrangement is better than the unstructured alternative.

The problem is that some labour markets are more attractive than others to non-nationals. This relative attractiveness could be due to a range of factors. It could be the result of relatively flexible hiring conditions that make it easier for foreign workers to experiment with living in another country. The ease of finding (and leaving) rental accommodation is also potentially important. So is language. There is no inherent reason why an English plumber should not be able to learn Polish; infants in both the United Kingdom and Poland tackle their respective languages with equal vigour. But adults confront a more uneven situation. In contrast to their British counterparts, Polish adults are surrounded by opportunities to hear spoken English, and have incentives to use that English with other native and non-native speakers. This means you are likely to find more Polish students at UK universities than the other way around; you are also likely to find fewer UK workers looking to spend time in Poland than Polish workers looking to experience life in the United Kingdom. Moreover, the advantages that the UK has over Poland are similar to the advantages that the British labour market offers over just about anywhere else in Europe. The presence or absence of border controls is completely unrelated to this imbalance. What matters is access to the labour market.

The challenge for European policymakers is to ‘level the playing field’. That challenge applies across every dimension of the single market, and not just the market for labour. Worse, European policymakers need to distinguish between advantages that are absolute (meaning that they result from some inherently unique feature, such as the ubiquity of the English language but also the location of scarce natural resources), advantages that are comparative (which result from how different things are done in different parts of Europe) and advantages that are created intentionally by national policymakers or business leaders who seek to distort market competition in their favour.

Unsurprisingly, this leveling of the playing field for the internal market is where you find most of the activity that we call ‘European integration’. It is a sprawling, complex, never-ending negotiation between representatives of different countries about how to mitigate natural vulnerabilities while at the same time fostering the prosperity that can be achieved by a large and competitive market.

It is easy to see who wins and who loses from any isolated aspect of this ongoing process. If you stop time and pull out a single agreement for scrutiny, it is impossible to see how everyone benefits from that isolated illustration. Someone, somewhere in Europe will always be disadvantaged at the expense of someone, somewhere else, either inside or outside the EU. It is also easy to imagine how little chance national representatives will have to be heard within the wider chorus of conflicting demands.

Europe’s heads of state and government try to ease this problem by giving each national representative a chance to speak. But no one who has ever sat in a committee meeting is fooled by that kind of spectacle. It is far easier to imagine that the ‘real work’ is done is something resembling a cross between a smoke-filled room and a trading pit. The European Commission, the Council Secretariat, the permanent representatives and the European Parliament all play a role. That is why critics of European integration are so quick to point out the very high percentage of legislation that they believe originates in Brussels. They do not believe they are represented within the legislative process at the European level, and so they demand to be represented by the national legislative process itself.

These are mutually exclusive alternatives. Either people have to agree to work within Europe’s internal market – with all of the levelling and hence legislation that entails at the European level – or they have to accept the geographic limitations associated with national parliaments. Neither the single currency nor the Schengen Agreement compels Europeans to make this choice. What compels them to make this choice is the requirements for having a single market.

The time has come for supporters of the internal market to stop hiding behind criticism of the single currency and Schengen. They will not win the argument by deflecting the attention of Europe’s critics onto other aspects of integration. If those other projects are eliminated from consideration, the fundamental complaints about Europe will have to be weighed against the enormous advantages that the single market represents.

At that point, Europe’s supporters will have to consider whether the internal market is any less controversial without those other distractions. The harsh reality is that it is not. They will also have to ask whether the internal market functions any better without other projects like the single currency and the Schengen Agreement to support it. The harsher reality is that it does not – but that is a different argument.

Erik Jones (@Erik_Jones_SAIS) is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, and a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. 

Mark Fitzpatrick: The PMD Report - Implications for the Nuclear Deal with Iran

The much anticipated 2 December report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s nuclear activities of a possible military dimension (PMD) did not say too much new. More than anything it confirmed the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear capabilities and intentions. This is not surprising given that both assessments drew from the same body of intelligence, although the IAEA report had the benefit of new information acquired over eight more years.

The IAEA report concluded that Iran worked on nuclear explosives. The ‘P’ can thus be removed from the ‘PMD’. As Martin Malin noted, we no longer have to say ‘possible’ when commenting on the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme. The IAEA is also confident that there was an explosives chamber at Parchin military base, which Iran removed along with other traces of nuclear-related work at the building in question. The report does not assess intent; it addressed what Iran did, not why.

Most of the exploratory explosives work stopped in 2003, but some fragmented work continued afterwards. We now have a date on how long afterwards: 2009 for computer modelling that was ‘incomplete and fragmented’. There are no more references to nuclear explosives work that may still be ongoing.

By the way, Iran is not the only country to have explored nuclear explosives modelling. Several Western non-nuclear weapons states have done so too, because it is relevant to building nuclear power plants. While this is worth noting, it is not to excuse Iran’s work, which seems more clearly linked to weaponisation.

The report indicates that some of Iran’s explanations were not convincing, particularly on what a building of interest at Parchin was used for. So the report is not an exoneration. It can be read to say: ‘we know what you did, we know you are lying; but the lies are not mortal sins, so let’s leave it at that.’ Although it is not satisfying to either side, it is fair.

The report thus provides a basis for the IAEA Board of Governors to make a political decision to close the ‘MD’ file. Yes, one can call this a concession by the Western nations that could have insisted the IAEA keep pressing Iran for more answers. The IAEA could have kept the Parchin issue alive by demanding convincing answers about what a room in the key building was used for and why the floor has an unusual cross-section and incomplete ventilation system. But this would have meant keeping alive a distraction.

It also would have meant calling a bluff on Supreme Leader Khamenei’s redline on PMD file closure, although it may not have been a bluff. Some of his redlines are unacceptable, in which case the bluff should be called. The United States cannot forego new sanctions if Iran engages in sanctionable activities in areas of human rights or terrorism, for example.

But what overriding purpose would be served by calling his bluff on the PMD file, when the IAEA says it already knows enough? Insisting on full disclosure on past activities is not necessary for future verification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The IAEA essentially knows what Iran did and can make worst-case assumptions in areas of uncertainty. As Hans Blix said at the EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference in Brussels last month, putting the PMD issue behind allows the focus to shift to properly and promptly implementing the JCPOA.

The IAEA’s key responsibility now is to verify Iran’s current and future nuclear activity. Iran apparently sees closing of the PMD file as meaning these activities will not be part of the Additional Protocol broader conclusion exercise. That misinterpretation should be corrected – clearly and publicly– so as not to restrict the scope of the Additional Protocol. Examining history will be important for the Agency to be able to draw the broader conclusion of no non-peaceful nuclear activity. 

Also, if new information about explosives work arises, the IAEA will need to investigate it in order to assure the completeness and correctness of Iran’s nuclear declarations. Relatedly, the JCPOA ban on certain weaponisation activities confirms that the IAEA does have a verification role that goes beyond the nuclear fuel cycle. However, the accord does not say how the ban on weaponisation work is to be verified. This is an area where further clarification is needed.

With the PMD issue closing, I understand why Iran says Implementation Day can come by 15 January. Iran can now proceed to remove the calandria of the Arak reactor and ship 12,000 kilograms of low enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia. These were the two steps Khamenei insisted depended on the PMD file closing. Both can be done quickly, although some parts of the near 20% LEU present complications, reportedly involving storage in Kazakhstan. 

Removing 13,500 centrifuges from Natanz and Fordow takes more time, so Khamenei did not make that conditional on closing the PMD file. The IR-1 model centrifuges began to be removed in October at a faster pace than expected. Iran showed less concern about damaging them because they are poor machines to begin with. Also, the more that are damaged, the greater excuse Iran will have to manufacture replacement machines in order to keep the allowed 5,000 centrifuges running. Such manufacturing will enhance Iran’s capabilities.

Shipping the LEU to Russia involved complicated negotiations in which each side sought commercial advantage. But such haggling can be short-circuited by a political decision, and the contractual issues indeed now appear to be settled. Still, I expect Implementation Day to come later than mid-January. President Hassan Rouhani may favour mid-February, so as to maximise the political boost to his supporters in the parliamentary elections later that month.

The report by IAEA Director General Amano did not give a basis for Western countries to delay Implementation Day, which would have been the case had he reported a lack of Iranian cooperation in addressing the PMD issues or unsatisfactory answers. Although resolution of PMD issues was not a legal condition for JCPOA implementation, a negative report would have constituted a political obstacle.

Closing the PMD file thus clears the next potential hurdle to implementing the Iran accord. Down the road, there will be several more hurdles, including inevitable allegations of cheating. Indeed, claims of cheating will probably be true, involving nuclear-related purchases not channelled through the Procurement Channel, the LEU stockpile fluctuating above the 300 kg limit, and R&D exceeding the set limits. Parties should distinguish between the significant and the less-significant violations, and apply countermeasures proportionately.  The West has other means of leverage besides sanctions snapback, such as slowing down assistance on redesigning the Arak reactor.

Further ahead, the IAEA is likely to find it difficult to draw the broader conclusion in eight years.  It took ten years in the case of Turkey, which did not have a nuclear-weapons programme. Yet in eight years, all nuclear-related sanctions on Iran are to come off, regardless of the IAEA’s assessments. I anticipate that if no broader conclusion of exclusive peaceful nuclear activity can be reached by then, it will be politically unsustainable to lift all sanctions. At that point the JCPOA probably will have to be renegotiated. For now, however, it will go ahead. The world will be better off for this.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS-Americas office and head of the Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme. 

The above are his prepared remarks at a 10 December event organised by the Arms Control Association.

Matthew Harries: For Trident renewal, it’s goodbye ‘main gate’

For what is in one sense a question of defence-acquisition esoterica, the United Kingdom’s debate over renewing its nuclear deterrent is peculiar, and peculiarly intense. It has a popular name – ‘Trident renewal’ – which is catchy, widely known and technically inaccurate. It has been subject to a White Paper, a parliamentary vote and two defence reviews, the scrutiny of a high-level NGO commission and a Cabinet Office review all of its own, all of which returned the same answer – that the UK should build a new fleet of nuclear-armed ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs) – yet none of which managed to quiet the opposition. Despite being an issue legally reserved solely for the Westminster government, Trident renewal has featured strongly in the debate over Scottish independence. And it may yet prove to be the issue that breaks apart the Labour Party, making irreconcilable the divide between its new leader and many of his most senior MPs, despite the fact that it was a Labour government which pushed through the original vote for renewal, and that current Labour policy is still to support it.

Of course, Trident renewal is not just about technocratic minutiae. These are, after all, colossally powerful weapons, and the UK has only one nuclear delivery platform - a fact which turns each narrow decision into a broader referendum on the country’s future as a nuclear-armed power. This is a question which tugs on several threads of the UK’s strategic culture at once, including its place and purpose in the world, its historical traditions of deference and dissent, and the emotional pull of an enormous feat of engineering in a country that, these days, has few.

For followers of this saga, there was an obvious headline from the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), released on 23 November. Renewing the deterrent will now cost an estimated £31 billion, a roughly £6bn increase, with an additional £10bn contingency fund set aside. Rumours of this jump had dribbled out in the weeks approaching the review, although they were somewhat clouded by a separate, back-of-an-envelope estimate made by backbench Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, inferring greatly increased whole-of-life costs for the successor programme. (The £31–41bn figure applies to the capital cost of building new submarines, rather than the future yearly cost of operating them and maintaining the nuclear-weapons infrastructure.)

To focus only on the money, however, would be a mistake. This time, the esoterica is indeed where the interesting stuff really lies. In the first place, there is a question of timing. The review states that the new submarines (armed with Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles, which, despite not being the focus of the current renewal decision, lend the overall programme its colloquial name) will enter service in the ‘early 2030s’. Previous documents had referred to the exit from service of the existing Vanguard-class submarines beginning in 2028; an early-2030s in-service date for the successor class indicates that the life of the Vanguard class has been extended by at least two years, and likely more. This is the latest in a series of extensions, and may eventually add up to an overall lifespan of nearly 40 years, compared to an original expected life of 25. (HMS Vanguard itself was the first to go on deterrent patrol, in December 1994.)

The reasons for the delay were not declared in the SDSR; possible explanations might include a desire to maintain synchronicity with the United States’ SSBN-procurement cycle and to spread out the pacing of construction at the shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness, currently burdened with production of Astute-class nuclear-powered attack submarines. A longer service life for the Vanguard class could increase, at least in theory, the risk of Britain’s record of continuous deterrent patrols being broken, though that risk probably remains low. It has also been argued that a longer service life for existing technology increases the risk that developments in anti-submarine warfare over the next 15 years could make the existing SSBN fleet more susceptible to detection. This is an area, however, in which reliable open-source information on which to base a judgment is scarce.

Special delivery
Of equal interest – for political as well as technocratic reasons – is a significant change to the way in which decisions about the submarines’ acquisition will be executed. Until now, the process had been expected to centre on a so-called ‘main gate’ decision. This was a structure based on the CADMID (concept, assessment, development, manufacturing, in-service, disposal) model of acquisition introduced as part of reforms launched by the UK’s 1998 Strategic Defence Review. In this model, acquisition projects face two main points at which approval to continue is required. The first is initial gate, at the end of the concept phase. In the case of the successor programme, this point was reached in 2011, after the development of an overall submarine design, producing a decision to pursue a new propulsion system based on a third-generation pressurised-water reactor, the PWR3. Ordering of long-lead items – that is, those items which need to be ordered well in advance of building the submarines – then began, the design of the submarines was further developed, and other steps were taken to smooth the way for the building process.

The second, and more decisive, point of approval in the CADMID model is main gate, following the assessment phase, at which the principal investment decisions are taken, a preferred bidder chosen and contracts placed. The timing of the successor main gate was an issue of great political sensitivity, and had already been postponed until 2016. In essence, this was to be the point of no return for the successor programme – there was to have been a parliamentary vote to approve the main-gate decision, although this was not a legal requirement, and it had also been identified as the moment at which a final decision on the number of boats to be ordered would be made.

The 2015 SDSR has moved the successor programme decisively away from the main-gate model, judging it ‘not appropriate for a programme of this scale and complexity’ – in remarks to the Public Accounts Committee, a senior civil servant called it a ‘monster’ which kept him up at night – and choosing instead to pursue a ‘staged investment programme’. The SDSR also establishes a new ‘delivery body’, which officials have described as resembling those used to manage the UK’s new high-speed railway line or the 2012 Olympic Games. The details of what this body will look like have not yet been disclosed; importantly, this includes the questions of the jurisdiction under which the body will fall, and to whom the body will report. The Times reported in mid-November that the new delivery body was a vehicle for the Treasury to take control of the successor programme. The SDSR does not provide details to back this up, but the fact that it does not name the Ministry of Defence as the responsible authority suggests that the new body could at least in part be accountable to the Treasury.

Boat vote
There are sharper political implications to this change, moreover, than simply the question of bureaucratic control. Although parliamentary approval of the successor programme by vote is not required, the main-gate decision point nevertheless provided a logical symbolic moment for that approval to be sought. A vote in favour ought to have settled the British nuclear question for a generation. The changes laid out in the SDSR remove that clear moment of decision, and in so doing make the question of a parliamentary vote, and its timing, even more a matter of the government’s discretion. The SDSR promises ‘a debate in Parliament on the principle of Continuous At Sea Deterrence and our plans for Successor’, which is something rather different from a vote to approve.

The government might seek a debate early in 2016 as a means of closing the issue before the May elections in Scotland, where opposition to Trident renewal is a major campaigning issue for the Scottish National Party. An early vote would place heavy pressure on the Labour Party, whose stridently anti-nuclear leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is at odds with his shadow defence and foreign secretaries on this issue, as well as with the majority of his front bench. A controversially organised Labour review on defence, intended to settle Trident policy, is ongoing. When the House of Commons considered UK military action against ISIS targets in Syria, which Corbyn opposed, MPs were permitted to vote with their conscience; shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn made an impassioned and widely lauded speech in favour of bombing, directing his sharpest remarks to members of his own party. This unusual arrangement only just worked for the Syria debate; it is hard to seeing it surviving a vote on Trident.

Matthew Harries (@harries_matthew) is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS.

Bruce Gilley and David Kinsella: Paris COP21 and the road to climate-change coercion

Negotiations at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Paris from 30 November–11 December, have begun. The talks have all the trappings of a self-help seminar for addicts. Sometimes such seminars work, but no amount of positive thinking can change the basic facts. On the one hand, the world is emitting far too much greenhouse gas, and this shows no signs of abating. India and China are expected to continue to emit even greater amounts in the coming decades, while Canada and Indonesia are mismanaging their resources in a way that locks in future increases. On the other hand, attempts to solve this problem through cooperative solutions, such as the Paris talks, coupled with ‘win–win’ solutions at the domestic level, are only nibbling at the margins.

We have previously argued in Survival that, as this crisis intensifies, progressively minded climate-change countries, both developing (such as the Philippines) and developed (such as Germany), will find themselves increasingly frustrated with humanity’s flirtation with extinction. Given the stakes and the risks – living with even a 1% chance of human extinction from a problem that could be solved is ludicrously irrational – such countries are more likely to shift to a more combative style with their neighbours. We have called this ‘coercive climate-change action’.

The basic idea is that, as they have done in the domestic sphere with mandatory emissions controls backed by the coercive power of the state, progressive countries will adopt more coercive policies internationally. These are likely to begin with low-level actions, such as conditioning technical assistance on the recipient’s climate-change-mitigation efforts, and then escalate to medium-level actions, such as imposing stiff carbon tariffs on imports. The possibility of limited military strikes against climate-threatening activities in neighbouring states is not likely, but also not inconceivable as climate conditions worsen. The key point is this: the notion that countries are sovereign with respect to the decisions that bear on greenhouse-gas emissions or sinks is weakening.

What would it take for the Paris talks to reduce the increasing likelihood of a coercive international politics of climate change? The talks will have to formulate a new norm or new plans that explicitly allow countries to have a say in shaping the policies of their neighbours on an ongoing basis. The idea that domestic policymaking is sovereign – embodied in the language of ‘intended nationally determined contributions’ (INDCs) – must be ditched at the Paris conference in order for states to be allowed to shape global climate policies in a cooperative manner, without the need to resort to coercion.

As they stand, INDCs are certainly a positive step. But even if they are fully implemented, we will warm the planet to threatening levels by the end of the century. And who believes they will be fully implemented? At present, the only international role in INDCs is the requirement that they be transparent to outsiders. What’s needed is a new mechanism – a new policy process – characterised by ongoing assessment and joint policy formulation of domestic emissions-mitigation strategies for the major parties.

There will be a lot of talk in Paris about whether a climate agreement can be made legally binding. But whether the agreement is legally binding is less important than whether the terms of the agreement are adequate to bring greenhouse-gas emissions down to where they need to be. Neither the INDCs nor the political processes that played out in the run-up to the conference were as inspiring as the opening speeches in Paris.

There will also be talk of climate finance: payments by developed countries to developing countries to help fund emissions mitigation and greener development policies. Perhaps this wealth transfer can be justified in terms of an ecological debt owed by developed countries, for their cumulative and disproportionate greenhouse-gas emissions, or as reparations for the adverse consequences of climate change. Either way, developing countries will be wary of any strings attached as an affront to their prerogatives as sovereign nations. Yet ‘climate conditionality’ is just the sort of low-level coercion that will become more common as international cooperative efforts fall short of effecting sufficient climate action.

In other words, the key to success is not whether a Paris agreement is legally binding, since the record of international climate law provides little reason for optimism. The issue is instead whether the process of INDC formulation and implementation remains sovereign. At present, we see no evidence of any fundamental shift at Paris, merely a new round of commitments which may themselves be grossly inadequate and which, if violated, carry no consequences for the country concerned. As such, we do not expect Paris to lead to a shift in the underlying trends towards a more coercive global politics of climate change.

Bruce Gilley is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the doctoral programme in Public Affairs and Policy in the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University.

David Kinsella is Professor and Chair of Political Science in the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Reflections on a Decade of Proliferation Prognostication

When I arrived at the IISS ten years ago, all was not quiet on the non-proliferation front. In Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had recently taken office and, in one of his first actions, had rejected the package proposal put forward by the E3 to try to halt Iran’s move toward enrichment. Israel was speaking of a ‘point of no return’ if Iran learned how to spin centrifuges.

In northeast Asia, the Six Party Talks had just produced a Joint Declaration, setting a path toward denuclearising North Korea, but the promise was quickly broken as parties disagreed on sequencing. With North Korea’s help, Syria was building a plutonium-production reactor, although we did not know it at the time.

George W. Bush and Manmohan Singh had agreed on a deal to allow full civil nuclear cooperation without India having to give up its weapons programme and join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The deal anticipated geostrategic benefits from a new alignment, but it sparked Pakistan to increase its plutonium production and later to introduce tactical nuclear weapons to the fraught subcontinent equation.

In the years since, the non-proliferation story has been mixed. At least the worst nightmares have not come to pass.

The taboo on use of nuclear weapons continued to its seventieth year. This past decade the world never even came close to a nuclear exchange. Nor has there been any detonation of a dirty bomb, though not because of a taboo or because radiological material is well secured. We can thank our security agencies – though we also were just lucky.

The 2008 Mumbai massacre did not spark an armed conflict that could have resulted in a nuclear war, although chances are greater today of such an escalation.

North Korea did not resume construction of the 50MWe reactor that was stopped in 1998 under the US–North Korea Agreed Framework and which, if completed, would have produced plutonium sufficient for 5–10 weapons a year. Instead, the reactor rusted out. Those who criticise the Agreed Framework need to compare what would likely have happened without it.

Iran did not acquire a nuclear weapon, and war was not initiated to stop it. Both worst-case outcomes were avoided. My 2008 Adelphi book on that subject stood the test of time. The July Iran nuclear accord should forestall those outcomes for another 15 years, at least. That is, if the deal is implemented – which, though probable, isn’t a sure bet given the fragility of political support in Iran and in the United States. It is unfortunate that Iran retains a weapons capability, but it is better that it is constrained. Again, critics of the deal have to compare it with the likely alternatives.

Containment has largely worked to prevent proliferation – with the exception of the failure to stop North Korea. The number of nuclear-armed states has been kept to a single digit. The past decade has seen significant rollback: in Iran’s centrifuge numbers; in Myanmar’s apparent nuclear dabbling and its missile deals with North Korea; and in Syria’s CW stockpiles – now eliminated from state arsenals, although not from non-state actors.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) banning these weapons has come close to universal acceptance. The NPT used to be the arms-control treaty closest to universalisation, with only three hold-outs. Now it has four, with North Korea. The CWC now also has only four outliers: Israel, Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan, the last of which will probably accede soon. Israel and Egypt do not have good reasons to be outside the CWC; it just isn’t a priority for them. They should make it one, for reasons explained by Nomi Bar-Yaacov in the latest edition of Survival.

Other treaties and would-be treaties have made less progress. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) still requires eight ratifications for entry-into-force – only one fewer than ten years ago. The outliers do not have good reasons. In the US, it is just because of politics, which are getting worse.

The NPT witnessed a new case of safeguards non-compliance by Syria. There have also been louder claims that the nuclear-weapon states (NWS) have not met their disarmament obligations. In fact, they have made significant reductions in arsenals, but the superpowers retain far too many nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, momentum in making further cuts has stalled.

When I inherited my programme from Gary Samore ten years ago, it was called just ‘Non-Proliferation’. It focused on ways to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to rogue states. Both of these terms soon went out of fashion. A few years later, attuned to a growing academic and philanthropic interest in arms control and denuclearisation, we changed the programme name to Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

The zeitgeist then held that nuclear weapons were losing their salience. Arms control was back in fashion. While nuclear threats loomed in Asia, they were disappearing from Europe. In a presentation last week at the EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference, Camille Grand from the FRS, noted that these assumptions have been massively challenged by developments over the past two years. The crisis over Ukraine exacerbated what already were growing tensions between Russia and the Western nations. Russian aggression in Ukraine was accompanied by cavalier nuclear sword rattling of a kind not heard in many years. The way forward in US–Russia arms control is blocked by demands for linkage with missile defence and conventional technologies, including prompt global strike.

The one silver lining in the dark cloud is the cooperation witnessed between Russia and the West over the Iranian nuclear accord. Despite the political and commercial reasons why it might have been in Russia’s interest not to see a deal, Russia’s non-proliferation goals trumped other considerations. There may be something to build upon here.

The breakdown in Russia–West relations and impact on arms control is one of the three worst developments in my field in the past decade. The other two were Assad’s use of chemical weapons and North Korea’s testing of nuclear weapons.

I have been encouraged to give consideration to black swans. These three developments, bad as they were, probably don’t qualify for that term. They were unpredictable but, unfortunately, not so rare in historical terms.

Nor do they meet the black swan criterion of having a major impact. Russia’s rupture of the Budapest Memorandum, which assured Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity when it gave up the nuclear weapons on its territory, did not dissuade Iran from signing the most significant arms-control agreement of the decade. Assad’s use of chemical weapons gave vent to non-state actors to use chlorine as weapons, but at least they did not have access to his CW arsenal, which was shipped out and destroyed. North Korea’s nuclear testing did not spark nuclear proliferation by its neighbours. South Korea and Japan remain non-nuclear. Taiwan, too. All three have the means and the motive. They didn’t go nuclear for two reasons: because they realise the downsides in terms of risks to their economies and defence relationships, and because they could rely on US extended deterrence for their security. My next book, to come out in February, explains this all in detail.

Writing the book reminded me of the importance of deterrence. The means of deterrence are not just nuclear, of course. Deterrence via conventional weapons is often more credible. But nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrent. And, as noted, their salience in Europe has returned.

So my team and I have decided to update our programme title again, to Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy. The first part represents continuity of the programme description, and my own expertise. The second part of the programme title – Nuclear Policy – encompasses all the other nuclear topics we cover, including nuclear disarmament, nuclear security, nuclear energy and nuclear deterrence.

Although I will take up new duties running the IISS office in Washington from next week, I will continue to run the NP/NP programme as well. Otherwise, it would not have been fair for me to rename it and run.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme.

The above is an as-prepared version of Mark Fitzpatrick’s valedictory talk at Arundel House on 24 November, his last day in the office before he moves to Washington to head the IISS office based there.

Nick Childs: The SDSR and UK Naval Ambition

The results of the latest UK Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) are about to break cover. Given the tumultuous strategic backdrop, they are eagerly awaited not only in the United Kingdom itself, but also among its allies.

The political signals so far suggest that, particularly compared to the 2010 review, the new SDSR will have a significant maritime emphasis. After all, the government has already declared its intention to order four new submarines to sustain the Trident nuclear ballistic-missile force. The prime minister, David Cameron, has announced that both of the new large Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers being built will be brought into service (whereas the 2010 SDSR suggested one could have been mothballed or sold). The recent ground-breaking ceremony in Bahrain for the new British naval base also underscored UK ambition for a renewed role once again ‘east of Suez’, including with an enhanced maritime presence.

There was also no lack of ambition in the signature a year ago by the chiefs of the Royal Navy and the US Navy of a document setting out a joint vision of sea power and an intention to develop an ever more integrated approach to future operations. There are clearly unique elements to this partnership, particularly in terms of shared skills and trust between the two navies, as there are more broadly in the UK–US defence relationship as a whole, much of which revolves around the nuclear capability.

But there are also important questions to be asked in terms of calibrating just what such a relationship amounts to in a global context, and whether the United Kingdom and the Royal Navy are able to deliver on the declared ambition. As a comparison, Japan might also claim a critical if subtly different maritime relationship with the United States. And Japan boasts a fleet of 43 modern destroyers and frigates to the Royal Navy’s 19.

For the Royal Navy, one of the critical SDSR questions is whether it can find the manpower to sustain its equipment and operational plans. There is also the fate of the Type-26 global combat ship programme, in the context of debate over whether the current force of destroyers and frigates is sufficient to sustain a credible balance between carrier task force ambitions and other patrolling and presence tasks. And delivering two aircraft-carrier hulls is one thing, but what, if anything, will the SDSR say about delivering sufficient numbers of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters for carrier operations? This is what will really count at the strategic level, particularly for an ally like the United States.

[Ed. note – the author will discuss these issues at greater length in an article in the February–March 2016 issue of Survival.]

Nick Childs is Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security at the IISS.

Dana H. Allin: The Paris Attacks and Transatlantica

In discussing the Paris attacks, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have both employed a theme that Kerry introduced to his 2004 presidential campaign: France is America’s oldest ally. The solidarity is genuine and profound, one of the significant transatlantic ramifications of the horrific massacres of last Friday evening. There are, at the same time, some structural transatlantic tensions that the attacks could exacerbate in the coming weeks and months. One is that, contrary to what one might imagine from the American political debate, Europe is simply more exposed to jihadist terrorism than the United States. Survival contributing editor Steven Simon made this point in an article, co-authored by his Dartmouth colleague Daniel Benjamin, and published yesterday by the New York Times. The differences include geographical proximity to the Middle East killing fields (a proximity that has facilitated the torrent of refugees), Europe’s Schengen regime of open borders and the relative disaffection of Europe’s Muslims in comparison to their US counterparts.

France has intensified airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria. The Franco-American cooperation in this campaign may also raise questions about the broader military capabilities of European allies in comparison to the United States. But Simon and Benjamin suggest that a more important gap is in the resources devoted to counter-terrorism intelligence. Of course, some of the American largesse is no doubt wasted, but waste is perhaps inevitable in the kind of crash programmes the US has launched since 9/11. In any event, the absolute imperative of expanded intelligence collection on both sides of the Atlantic is the Simon and Benjamin conclusion. Their whole argument is well worth a read.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Mark Fitzpatrick: EU takes stage on Iran deal

The 300-some participants at the EU Non-proliferation and Disarmament Conference held in Brussels from 11–12 November had reason for celebration – and not just because the meeting began on a national holiday for many of them. The event was infused with sober satisfaction with the Iran nuclear accord, seen as the most important non-proliferation achievement of the past decade, and with understated pride in the Union’s contribution to bringing it about. The EU chaired the talks, acted as a mediator between the key states, and via its ability to both impose and lift stringent sanctions helped concentrate Iranian minds on a solution.

The Iran nuclear accord was possible, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said, because of ‘patient, obstinate, courageous multilateralism’.  Her emphasis on multilateralism reflects the EU vision. For a collective riven by disputes over immigration, debt bailout and federalism, it is reassuring to see what can be achieved when the 28 members work together and with other parties. As was mentioned more than once at the conference, wrongly labelling the talks as ‘P5+1-Iran’ neglects the EU’s role. The correct nomenclature – E3/EU+3 and Iran – does not trip lightly off the tongue, but then nothing about Brussels bureaucracy does.

In her conference keynote address, EU Deputy Secretary General and Political Director Helga Schmid provided the first detailed public description of the negotiation process from the EU perspective. She spoke, too, about the potential positive implications of the deal, which I myself recently discussed in a commentary for the latest issue of Survival. At the bilateral level, these include the prospect for EU–Iran cooperation in addressing common security challenges of drug trafficking and the refugee flow from Afghanistan. At the regional level, the Iran deal has already sparked a more inclusive focus on bringing peace to the Syrian conflict, now with Iranian participation.

Schmid was cautious, though, about assuming success in implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As discussed throughout the conference, high hurdles loom ahead. At a dinner keynote speech, Yukiya Amano, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), focused on the first challenge. By 15 December he must issue a ‘final assessment’ regarding Iran’s answers to the IAEA’s concerns about nuclear activities of a possible military dimension (PMD). For several years now the agency has been probing a dozen outstanding cases of apparent work on nuclear weaponisation. As of this past spring it had received reasonable answers to about one and a half of them. The nuclear accord and a separate Iran–IAEA agreement required Iran to address the rest of the questions by 18 October along with the means of allowing IAEA verification.

IAEA access to Iran’s military base at Parchin was the most visible and controversial aspect of PMD verification. Amano noted that in visiting the key building in question at Parchin in September, he saw no sign of a large explosives chamber that was reported previously to have been present and used for nuclear-related experiments. Amano also emphasised that the environmental swipe sampling procedures carried out at Parchin by Iranians themselves, ‘under continuous surveillance’ by the IAEA were in accord with verification requirements and Agency practice with 40 other countries. What he did not say was that in most of those other cases, sampling is conducted by the host country for technical reasons, e.g. because it is done in a reactor glove box. Iran’s insistence on itself conducing all swipe samples at Parchin could be a concern insofar as it sets a precedent for future IAEA inspection of suspicious sites in Iran.

There is also a more immediate problem. Given its stalling all these years, one wonders how Iran now could have come up with satisfactory answers in a few months. Former IAEA Deputy Legal Advisor Laura Rockwood, who now heads the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation and who spoke in the final conference session, was doubtful the agency would be able to resolve all of the issues. She surmised that the IAEA may be able to conclude, as it did with regard to some issues in 2008, that Iran’s explanations are ‘not inconsistent with the data currently available to the agency’. She added that some of the 12 PMD issues may then be retired, but that the Iran nuclear issue would not be removed from the agenda of the IAEA Board of Governors.

Whether such an outcome will be good enough for key parties remains unclear. The JCPOA itself does not require that the PMD issues be resolved, although the separate roadmap between Iran and the IAEA, also signed on 14 July, does refer to the goal of resolving all outstanding issues by the end of 2015. Moreover, as a political matter, an IAEA report that said issues remained unresolved or, worse, that expressed dissatisfaction with Iran’s answers, would make it difficult for Western nations to go through with plans to lift nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.

For its part, Iran wants IAEA vindication. In a 21 October letter giving conditional approval to the deal, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the PMD file would have to be closed before Iran would carry out two of its requirements under the accord. Sparked by complaints from hardline lawmakers that Khamenei’s directive was being violated, Iran on 10 November stopped disconnecting centrifuges at the Natanz and Fordow enrichment plants. Ali Vaez from the International Crisis Group posed an unanswered question as to how Khamenei’s insistence on closing the PMD file squares with the possibility of an inconclusive IAEA report.

Former State Department negotiator Robert Einhorn, now with Brookings, asked about another hurdle to successful implementation of the JCPOA. Khamenei’s 21 October letter insisted that any new sanctions imposed on Iran would be a breach of the accord and require Iran to stop implementing it. Einhorn noted that the JCPOA only refers to nuclear-related sanctions and he anticipated that Washington is likely to add Iranian entities to the sanctions black list over human rights violations, for example. Indeed, Iran’s jailing of Iranian-American dual citizens could spark such sanctions. Mostafa Zahrani, director-general of the Institute for Political and International Studies, which is under Iran’s foreign ministry, answered that Khamenei’s letter was a pre-emptive effort to prevent the JCPOA from being torpedoed through malicious spoiling. Left unsaid was that there would be very different interpretations as to which side started any such spoiling.   

Hans Blix, former IAEA director-general, had the last word, however. Acknowledging that there will be many spoilers, he expected that application of the latest Security Council resolution on Iran will gradually build the confidence that has been lacking. Resolution 2231 expresses the Council’s desire to build a new relationship with Iran. Blix reflected the general sentiment of the EU Conference that there is a will to do this. When BBC International Correspondent Lyse Doucet surveyed participants after she moderated Amano’s dinner speech, the vast majority raised their hands in agreement that the Iran nuclear deal will succeed.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme. He contributed a commentary assessing the Iran nuclear deal to the October–November 2015 issue of Survival.

Matthew Harries: Russia in Syria – cold wars and the zero-sum trap

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bloody struggle in Syria is the subject to which delegates to the 2015 IISS Manama Dialogue have devoted the most overall time. And Russia’s direct military intervention has been the source of extensive and often worried speculation. Has Russia exploited American weakness to make sure President Bashar al-Assad will not fall? Or is Russia steaming into a strategic quagmire, doomed to squander capital, blood and its regional reserves of soft power in search of an elusive military victory?

The latter interpretation was the driving theme of US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s address to the dialogue’s first plenary session. Russia, Blinken argued, cannot afford to sustain its intervention, risks blowback and will soon realise what US President Barack Obama’s administration has realised – namely, that this is a conflict that cannot be ended by force of arms alone. This is a contested point: IISS Chairman François Heisbourg observed from the floor that the Russian intervention is of a scale only as large as the UK and French intervention in Libya – significant but manageable.

The logic underpinning US policy offers a way out of this predicament: if Russia now ‘owns’ the Syria conflict, it will face incentives to pressure Assad to step down, clearing the way for an internationally brokered transition of some kind. As journalist Josh Rogin quite reasonably pointed out, however, this logic might fail. Russia might endure, and the crisis might simply get worse.

This week the United States made its first overt announcement of the deployment of special-operations forces to Syria. Russia’s opportunistic rhetorical response, warning of the risks of proxy warfare, was reminiscent of the surreal tone of Cold War public diplomacy, in which both sides would officially deny mutually understood realities on the ground.

But there is another Cold War echo to this debate, and it is an especially insidious one. The Cold War featured a generalisation of hostility, in which the two sides approached various global challenges mainly as a testing ground for relative strength, and a venue for competition in which one side could win and one side could lose. A defeat for the opposition was to be welcomed, sometimes with only secondary regard for the local implications.

This is not yet the case in Syria. But there are dangers for the West in excessive schadenfreude. If Russia fares badly in Syria, it will do so at the cost of Syrian lives, and it might persist, grimly, for some time. The further damage to what remains of Syria as a state, and to order in the Levant, could be severe. Deputy Secretary of State Blinken might well be correct to assess that the combined experience of Ukraine and Syria demonstrates President Vladimir Putin’s tactical decisiveness and strategic ineptitude. But this is not a theoretical proposition, and it was not reassuring to read, in a late September New York Times article, an anonymous US official’s wry response to Russian bragging about assembling a pro-Assad coalition: 'Knock yourselves out’. Or as columnist Michael A. Cohen put it, if Russia ‘wants to involve itself in another conflict, the U.S. should be rolling out the red carpet. Frankly, better them than us.’

This is one reason why a renewed cold war in Europe would be disastrous. Should such a condition re-emerge, Russia and the West (and especially the United States), will approach conflicts such as the one in Syria with an old and familiar addition to their strategic pecking-order: an interest in seeing the other side fail. If that happens, a mainspring of hope in the post-Cold War order will have run dry.

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS.

Erik Jones: Are global market infrastructures an instrument of foreign policy?

Roughly 9,000 members of the global finance community gathered in Singapore last week at a conference devoted to ‘market infrastructure’ – meaning the plumbing (communication, clearing, settlement, depository) that makes finance work. On one level it was a very geeky affair, with its own confusing jargon. The name of the conference, SIBOS, refers to another acronym, SWIFT. If you wanted to fill a room, all you had to do was shout ‘block chain’ or ‘distributed ledger’ and you were made. And there was a whole forum devoted to standards – which are precise definitions for how things should look and work. But the buzz was not only about technology. You could pack the room talking about China’s strategy to internationalise the renminbi just as easily. Market infrastructure is about power as well as plumbing. More important, the power and the plumbing tend to work at cross purposes.

The tension between how markets are connected and who has control over the infrastructure (or connecting bits) will define the next wave of globalisation. Right now there is a contrast in views. The easiest way to illustrate this is through two global thinkers. One is Parag Khanna; the other is Nader Mousavizadeh. Khanna is a long-time student of how the world is put together. He was one of the first to map the emergence of a new Silk Road across central Asia and he was at the leading edge of the debate about global cities. His new project is on connectivity, or ‘connectography’, and the general theme is that emerging markets are rewiring the world economy in their own interests – and have been for decades. The new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is only the latest iteration in a consistent strategy for China to build secure access to vital resources and global markets. Moreover, China is not alone in these efforts and other emerging markets are actively engaged: just look at the explosion in South–South trade. Even India, which has been slow off the mark, is now firmly in the game. The result is a world economy that is more interconnected in more diverse ways than ever before. Moreover, the pattern of interconnection is strategic – with South–South ‘infrastructure alliances’, as Khanna calls them, providing key insulation for national sovereignty. The end result is a world economy that countries in Europe and North America will find much harder to manipulate.

Mousavizadeh takes a somewhat less sanguine view. He is a long-term student of global power, having worked closely with Kofi Annan at the United Nations in the 1990s and having kept a tight finger on the pulse of geopolitical risk through his positions as Chief Executive Officer at Oxford Analytica and co-founder of Macro Advisory Partners. Mousavizadeh does not deny that the network of global connections is both expanding and deepening as emerging markets and rising powers put their stamp on the world economy. What he objects to is the idea that the pattern of interdependence is so tight, dense or redundant that it can no longer be manipulated. On the contrary, he suggests, anything can be used by governments seeking to press a national advantage. The fact that redundant connections exist does not mean there is no cost to switching from one infrastructure to another and no vulnerability associated with the transition. Hence Mousavizadeh anticipates the ‘weaponisation of everything’ – which is a world within which all governments, and not just global powers, seek to exploit interdependence to exert leverage.

The two perspectives highlight key elements of globalisation as it is evolving. The world is becoming more interconnected and the connecting bits can be manipulated. The problem is that any attempt to use global market infrastructures as an instrument of foreign policy runs the risk of fracturing the world economy into overlapping and competing systems. This is one of the many reasons why it would be dangerous to try to exclude the Russian banks from the SWIFT network for financial communications (which was one of the ideas floated for tightening the sanctions on Russia over Russian policy toward Ukraine). The result would be to hurt the Russian banks in the short term but also to create a longer-term incentive for Russia and other countries that might one day face similar sanctions to build a financial telecommunications infrastructure beyond the control of policymakers in the United States and Europe. Indeed, it is no secret that they have already started – both in collaboration and for specific use in connecting financial institutions inside China. Such a parallel financial communications infrastructure would not only insulate foreign banks from Western policymakers, but it would also lower the efficiency of global financial transactions and it would make it easier for non-Western governments to think about how disrupting the SWIFT network might be used to exploit a vulnerability for Western banks. In other words, duplication or redundancy would set the stage for a kind of tit-for-tat weaponisation of financial communications.

This explains why the internationalisation of the Chinese currency is so important for the financial infrastructure community. In the past, the US government has used access to dollar clearing as a powerful instrument of foreign policy. In doing so, it has also created an incentive for the Chinese government to promote the renminbi as a global instrument for trade and finance. Should they succeed in this endeavour, they will not only raise the prestige of the Chinese currency but also equip themselves to exploit other countries’ dependence on gaining access to renminbi clearing (and other post-trade services). The world economy will be more interconnected but it will also be subject to greater manipulation. Moreover, Chinese influence will only increase as the Chinese government succeeds in promoting the international use of renminbi-denominated assets. China will not have to rival the US dollar for this policy to count as a success. All it will need is to lock enough other countries into a new and vital piece of global financial plumbing for which it can control access.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. You can follow him on Twitter at: @Erik_Jones_SAIS.

Nick Childs: Britain’s nuclear debate - a home for Trident at Kings Bay?

In his article in the October–November 2015 issue of Survival on the replacement of the UK’s Trident-armed submarine force, William Walker mentions the possibility that, if Scotland were to become a sovereign state and expel British nuclear forces, the United States might offer to allow the UK to use the base at Kings Bay in Georgia, at least temporarily, while other basing options in England or Wales were developed. It is an idea that has been raised before. There are some aspects to the proposal which seem superficially attractive. But the obstacles are very significant.

Kings Bay is the home of the US Navy’s east-coast-based Ohio-class Trident-armed ballistic-missile submarines, which are even larger than the UK Royal Navy’s current Vanguard class. British submarines call in on Kings Bay to load and unload their Trident missiles from and back into a common US–UK pool of weapons. But, when they do so, the missiles are unarmed, as they have their nuclear warheads fitted and removed at the Royal Naval Armament Depot at Coulport, adjacent to the submarines’ current base at Faslane.

Therein lies one of the critical practical obstacles to the idea of Kings Bay as even a temporary base for Britain’s Trident submarine force. It is possible that, as part of a temporary transition, the warhead fitting, storage and maintenance facilities at Coulport could be retained, even if the submarines were relocated. But separating the submarines from their armament facilities by an entire ocean would present massive operational difficulties, especially if the operational concept to sustain a continuous at-sea deterrent with no more than four boats were unchanged.

A permanent move, whether to the United States or within the rest of the UK, would require the recreation of the Coulport facilities elsewhere. In the context of a relocation to Kings Bay, and sustaining the notion of a national independent nuclear force, that would surely also at least require the development of a national UK nuclear warhead facility in Georgia. The hurdles to creating such a facility on US soil (not least, satisfying two sets of national regulatory authorities), are likely to be significantly greater than attempting to do the same thing in another part of the United Kingdom. And what would the transport arrangements be for delivering UK warheads from their manufacturing site, the UK’s Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, to the United States?

Providing broader maintenance facilities for the submarines would also be complicated. Devonport plays host to the Vanguard-class boats for long refits. But, in terms of operational sustainment, there would need to be significant additional provision for British boats at Kings Bay. They share the same missiles as their US counterparts. The next generation of submarines will share a common, jointly US/UK-developed missile compartment. But virtually all the other major systems, including the nuclear propulsion plant, are different.

There is also the personnel issue. Migrating all the necessary crews, their families, and any required sustaining UK workforce, to Georgia – when maintaining manning is proving a huge challenge as it is – would surely present at least as many practical problems as finding a new home for Trident within the United Kingdom.

Finally, of course, there are the political and strategic considerations. There is some precedent for all of this in the forward basing of US ballistic-missile submarine capabilities at Holy Loch in Scotland for three decades from 1961. And today there are US tactical nuclear weapons based on European soil. But that is at a much lower rung on the strategic nuclear ladder. And Holy Loch was nuclear-equipped in the context of both the Cold War and a massive home-based US nuclear infrastructure, of which Holy Loch was just an element. Moving the UK’s Trident force to Kings Bay today would mean basing an entire national nuclear-missile force on foreign soil.

Basing what is meant to be a nation’s ultimate deterrent capability on foreign soil must raise questions about that nation’s willingness to use it. And would the American authorities be willing to take on the political controversy that would undoubtedly go along with establishing a base for non-US nuclear weapons on US soil? The Westminster government would likewise face redoubled allegations that its independent deterrent was no such thing. (That argument might be different if the focus of the justification for maintaining the UK force were to change significantly, becoming much more founded on NATO-wide, rather than national, nuclear capability.)

All this suggests that the Kings Bay option would seem to present at least as many obstacles as any of the other alternative sites for the future of the UK nuclear force. Perhaps the key question is to what extent the UK government will choose, or be forced, to confront these options more publicly in the future than it has been prepared to do up to now.

Nick Childs is Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security at the IISS.

Dana H. Allin: Hillary Wins in Vegas

Aside from her unambiguous win, one thing was obvious in Hillary Clinton’s debate performance last night in Las Vegas: she’s running for Barack Obama’s third term. In the history of US presidential politics, that’s not always an obvious move. It is usually difficult for a party that has controlled the White House for eight years to win another mandate from an understandably weary electorate. To be sure, these generalisations are problematic because the sample size of US presidential elections is small. Still, the would-be third-term successors of the past two decades have generally acted as though they needed to get free of the shadow of their party’s incumbent. John McCain in 2008 had no choice but to try; George W. Bush was very unpopular, and the campaign season had a Last-Days-of-Pompeii feel as the world financial system came crashing down. In these circumstances, McCain’s loss was probably over-determined, but the Bush legacy was one of the factors that brought him down. Al Gore in 2000 had a trickier calculation to make, and conventional wisdom says he got it wrong. Bill Clinton was an unusually popular president towards the end of his second term, but both terms had been tumultuous and scandal-ridden, and Gore decided that his campaign required some distance. He in fact won the popular vote but lost – albeit narrowly and controversially – in the Electoral College. The failure to fully embrace the administration he had been part of was probably a mistake.

Hillary Clinton was determined last night not to make a similar mistake. She embraced Obama’s presidency at every opportunity. Indeed, when one of her opponents tried to use Obama’s own winning tactic from 2008 – criticising her Senate vote authorising the Iraq War – Clinton turned to President Obama himself for absolution. ‘Well’, she said, ‘I recall very well being on a debate stage, I think, about 25 times with then-Senator Obama, debating this very issue. After the election, he asked me to become Secretary of State. He valued my judgment…’ Even on Syria’s civil war, where Clinton’s instincts seem again more hawkish than the president’s, she was careful not to frame her views as a criticism of the administration. ‘[W]e are already flying in Syria just as we are flying in Iraq. The president has made a very tough decision.’ She went on to say that a no-fly zone should be ‘on the table’ as a source of leverage ‘to get the Russians to have to deal with everybody in the region and begin to move toward a political, diplomatic solution in Syria’.  And again, she gave a nod to her former colleagues – ‘I know that inside the administration this is being hotly debated…’

On domestic policy – with the exception of trade, where she has now staked out a position to the president’s left – Clinton was even more vociferously supportive of the administration’s policies. To say that she is running for Obama’s third term is really to say that it will be a major theme of her campaign that the administration’s accomplishments – on healthcare, immigration, carbon regulation, the nuclear deal with Iran – had to be clawed out against fierce Republican opposition, and that another Democratic presidency is necessary to guard against right-wing reversal on all fronts. The days of ‘triangulation’ – a strategy famously associated with her husband – appear to be over. The middle ground has disappeared. President Obama is mildly unpopular in the country at large, but he remains very popular with Democrats. If Clinton wins the nomination, and if last night is any guide, her general election strategy will be to focus on that Democratic half of the country, hoping to capitalise on the energy that Obama brought to it, and also hoping that it will prove – if only barely – to be a larger half.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Steven Simon: The Democrats’ Debate and Israel

Tonight is the US Democratic presidential candidates’ first debate. Without knowing the questions in advance, we can be reasonably confident that Middle East policies, including relations with Israel, will come up. They will certainly be themes of contention in the primary campaigns for both parties, and in the general election campaign. We have already heard from the many Republican candidates in somewhat surreal encounters. So far, at least, the Republicans’ organising principle for the strategic relationship seems to be to jettison the nuclear deal with Iran. The replacement they envisage would somehow be foolproof and not entail any sanctions relief for Iran in return for its compliance. The P5+1 have already rejected such a possibility, while one member of the Iranian parliament, which approved the deal without knowing the contents, said that he would like to see the negotiator entombed at the Arak reactor. That the Iranian regime is so fearful of the parliamentary response to the details of the agreement that they would conceal them, suggests that – from an Israeli perspective – it might actually be a good deal.

In any event, the Republicans’ arguments have been challenged by scores of former Israeli defence and intelligence officials. These experienced professionals, all presumably Israeli patriots, share the prevailing view that the deal lowers the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran more than any plausible alternative. The challenge now is to think systematically about how best to help secure Israel’s safety against immediate and long-term threats.

And the threats are myriad. The increasingly anarchic conditions on Israel’s borders, some of which are being exploited by Iran, will continue to jeopardise Israel’s safety. To the extent that an oasis of stability against a larger, bloody regional landscape is desirable, Israel must be able to fend off such challenges without having to resort to full-blown war. Israel will have to find a diplomatic way to tamp down growing violence on the West Bank, even as it prepares to deal militarily with external threats. In an effort to grapple with these challenges, the Israel Defense Forces and Ministry of Defense recently circulated an unprecedented strategic statement. Over the years, Israeli military chiefs of staff have periodically released threat assessments, but never such a systematic review of the threats facing the Jewish state, the strategic implications of these threats and the practical requirements that flow from the analysis.

This document, signed by General Gadi Eisenkot, the IDF chief of staff, is already looking beyond the Iran nuclear problem. What apparently concerns Eisenkot more are the irregular, sub-state adversaries that threaten Israel’s population and economic progress. By blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon for more than a decade, Israel is now better positioned to counter these threats. For Eisenkot, and the military he commands, the problems are Hizbullah and Hamas, both of which are linked to Iran, but also the proliferation of Sunni extremist groups in Syria. The IDF’s focus on these threats should guide Washington’s approach to helping Israel defend itself.

The necessary measures obviously include collecting and evaluating intelligence on Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement and preparing response options should Iran cheat or try for a breakout. Those options include military action. The Obama administration has made clear that it will retain ‘all options’, including the military one, if Iran crosses the threshold of building a nuclear weapon. But this is more likely to be a problem for the next administration, and Hillary Clinton, for one, has already promised that as president she would stop an Iranian breakout by force if necessary.

Clinton has also promised to continue the methodical approach to security assistance and collaboration, geared to IDF priorities, which the Obama administration has conducted. Despite well-known frictions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu credited the administration’s ‘unprecedented’ security cooperation with his country. Clinton led international efforts to pass UN Security Council Resolution 1929 in June 2010, imposing the harshest sanctions on Iran in history. In 2012, she led negotiations to establish a ceasefire in Gaza and end rocket attacks from Hamas. As secretary of state, she requested increased assistance for Israel every year, from $2.55 billion when she took office to $3.1 billion in FY2013, an increase of nearly 20%. She worked to upgrade Patriot missiles and the Iron Dome system, and helped equip Israel with the F-35 joint strike fighter.

More can be done. Given the extremely volatile situation on Israel’s borders and the lead time necessary to put programmes in place, especially procurement programmes, it makes sense to move forward the renewal of the 10-year memorandum of understanding that regulates US assistance, as Clinton has proposed. She has also proposed measures to deal with the threat from Hamas and Hizbullah – and now Sinai, where the quiet days resemble the climax of Mad Max: Fury Road – a serious, immediate increase in the Iron Dome programme, which shoots down missiles and rockets. Swift transfer of the F-35 tactical aircraft would enable the Israeli air force to manage the threat from missiles launched from points farther afield.  Intensified intelligence cooperation, not just relating to Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, but also focusing on Sunni jihadists whom we know have their sights set on Israel, would serve both US and Israeli interests. All of this corresponds to what the IDF believes that Israel really needs, according to General Eisenkot’s strategy document.

Of course, the Democrats have controlled the White House for seven years and were therefore in a position to take the lead on such efforts. No doubt a Republican president would continue many of them. But tearing up the agreement with Tehran, and thereby practically guaranteeing that Iran would continue an unrestrained nuclear programme, would seem a mystifying place to start.

Steven Simon is a Visiting Lecturer at Dartmouth College and a Contributing Editor to Survival. He was previously senior director for counter-terrorism on the US National Security Council (NSC) staff during the Clinton administration, and senior director for the Middle East and North Africa on the NSC during the Obama administration.

Mark Fitzpatrick: A nuclear trafficking route to the Levant?

An AP investigative report on 7 October about four nuclear-smuggling cases in Moldova over the past five years offers a reminder about the danger of radioactive materials in the former Soviet Union ending up as bomb ingredients elsewhere in the world.

In more than one sense, there is less here than meets the eye. Three of the four cases illuminated in the AP story, which drew on interviews and footage from Moldova, have been reported before. The newly revealed incident from last winter involved material – caesium-135 – that could not even be used for a radioactive ‘dirty bomb’, much less a nuclear weapon. The material proffered by smugglers in one of the other cases was depleted uranium, which similarly is of no use as bomb material, although it is often used for armour-piercing projectiles.

Fortunately, with one possible exception, none of the cases involved a real customer. More fortunately, this has been the norm in the shadowy field of nuclear smuggling. Any functioning market matches supply with demand, requiring both sellers and buyers. But almost every reported nuclear smuggling case to date has involved only the supply side. Any potential buyers have been exceedingly stealthy. The ‘customers’ that smugglers often think they are dealing with typically turn out to be undercover police agents carrying out sting operations. The only real potential customer in the Moldova cases was a Sudanese doctor who had contracted with the smugglers to purchase conventional weaponry, and who had exchanged Skype messages suggesting an interest in uranium and dirty-bomb blueprints that the smugglers had acquired.

The reason for concern, and why my Wednesday was repeatedly interrupted by interviews at London’s broadcast studios, is that the nuclear-materials supply could contribute to creating a demand. One of the Moldovan middlemen, a former KGB informant, expressed a hatred of the United States and a desire to sell uranium to a Middle Eastern buyer. He was entrapped when the Moldovan police pretended to be from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

In its propaganda journal Dabiq this past May, ISIS claimed that it would be able, within a year, to buy a nuclear weapon, supposedly from Pakistan. As I have written before, the idea that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons can easily be purchased is largely a fantasy. Nor did the Dabiq article suggest ISIS is serious in its intent. The nuclear claim was less about bombs than about bombastic marketing of the ISIS brand.

But the possibility of ISIS acquiring – and using – a dirty bomb cannot be dismissed. The group evinces no moral constraints and is increasingly using chlorine bombs and, recently, mustard gas as well, while reportedly recruiting trained professionals to produce chemical weapons. It would not be much of a jump in terms of either science or conscience to reach for dirty bombs. ISIS may even possess 40kg of low-enriched-uranium compounds that were kept for scientific research at a university north of Mosul, Iraq that the group occupied for several months last year. The uranium was not enriched enough to present a security danger, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, but any dirty bomb using uranium could spread terror, even if not poison.

If ISIS did seek nuclear or radiological weapons (hugely different, of course), it would not be the first terrorist group to be so inclined. The Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo in the early 1990s unsuccessfully tried to buy nuclear weapons amidst the crumbling of the Soviet state. A decade later, al-Qaeda leaders infamously met in Afghanistan with Pakistani former nuclear-weapons scientists to inquire about A-bomb making.

The potential for terrorist demand for nuclear ingredients is reason for concern about the supply route. Most recent incidents of nuclear smuggling have been scams that involved no radioactive material at all despite fanciful smuggler tales of access to alchemic ‘red mercury’ and uranium of little radioactivity. The caesium-135 and depleted uranium proffered by the Modovan smugglers was supposedly a form of initial earnest; the real stuff – caesium-137 and highly enriched uranium (HEU) – purportedly would come later, once buyer credentials were established. In one Moldovan case, however, and other recent cases elsewhere, small quantities of HEU were handed over. The HEU cases are more worrisome because two or more were apparently associated with the same former Soviet facility. This suggests that more HEU from the facility might be on the loose.

Preventing nuclear smuggling and the production of dirty bombs requires ongoing cooperative efforts by the community of nations. This is why US President Barack Obama convened world leaders in 2010 for a Nuclear Security Summit, an event that will be held for the fourth and probably last time next spring, again in Washington. Unfortunately and unreasonably, Russia will not be attending this time. It is another casualty from President Vladimir Putin’s self-estrangement from the West. Russian military action in Georgia and Ukraine has also contributed to a weakening of border controls in Eastern Europe, thereby facilitating nuclear smuggling.

If there is one positive note in this story, it is that Moldovan authorities cooperated with the United States in foiling the incidents in question and nuclear material was not sent southward. So no, there is no nuclear trafficking route to the Levant. Governments must continue to ensure there remains none.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme. His most recent Survival article is 'Iran: A Good Deal', in the October–November 2015 issue.

Matthew Harries: Jeremy Corbyn doesn't go nuclear

Something remarkable happened in British politics on Wednesday; something that has not happened for a generation. The leader of the opposition, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn – who would, as things stand, become prime minister if Labour were to win the 2020 general election – said that there were no circumstances under which he would authorise the use of nuclear weapons.

In doing so, he accelerated the arrival of a confrontation that some had predicted would occur next year, when Parliament votes on whether or not to proceed with the renewal of Britain’s Trident-based nuclear-weapons system. Jeremy Corbyn is resolutely opposed to Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons, even though Labour’s last five election manifestos have said that Britain should retain its arsenal until such time as global disarmament becomes realistic. That policy was effectively reaffirmed this week, when Labour decided against debating Trident (as the programme as a whole is colloquially known) at its annual conference.

Corbyn’s position upon becoming party leader was that he would not insist on support from his shadow cabinet on this issue, only that they should be willing to engage in debate. But the party appears collectively to have resolved – spurred by the trade unions, which view Trident as a valuable source of industrial jobs – not to revise its stance, at least for the moment.

The confrontation is this: Corbyn’s opposition to the renewal of Trident is one thing, and is in theory an issue on which a dispute between him and the rest of his party could be workable. But Corbyn’s opposition to the use of nuclear weapons, and, crucially, his willingness to make this explicit in public, is an unbridgeable gap.

To understand why, consider this scenario: in 2016, Corbyn permits a free vote amongst the parliamentary Labour party on Trident renewal. The majority of the party votes in favour of Britain retaining the nuclear deterrent; Corbyn and some of his allies join the Scottish National Party and some Liberal Democrats in voting against. The Conservatives vote as a bloc in favour and, commanding a parliamentary majority in any case, win decisively. The work to build four new nuclear-armed submarines begins. Now let us imagine that Corbyn is still Labour Party leader in the run-up to the 2020 general election. If he has not managed by then to change the party’s collective stance, he will be stuck: Britain will be building a nuclear-weapons delivery system that the prospective prime minister has declared he is not willing to use.

Jeremy Corbyn is not the first Labour leader to be on the record as opposing nuclear use – both Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock at various points were similarly resolved. But those leaders had the backing of the party; and when Kinnock’s position later changed, the shift was over a long enough period to make his commitment to nuclear deterrence somewhat believable. For Corbyn, things are different: if he were to campaign for the 2020 general election saying that he had reconsidered, who would believe him? Thousands of pages have been written about the difficulties of communicating credibility in deterrence. But what happens when a nuclear-weapon state’s leader has said he will not threaten nuclear retaliation at all?

All of which explains why Jeremy Corbyn’s words on Wednesday – even though perhaps unsurprising from a lifelong advocate for disarmament – were so remarkable. Before then, it was just about conceivable that Corbyn could have been a reluctant nuclear deterrer: personally opposed, but pledging to accept the judgement of his party and of parliament. Now that escape – which would have been a high-wire act anyway – is out of reach. In response, Maria Eagle, Corbyn’s own shadow defence secretary, mustered up a piece of British understatement: ‘I don't think that a potential prime minister answering a question like that, in the way in which he did, is helpful’.

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS. He can be followed on Twitter at @harries_matthew.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Ten ways to build on the Iran nuclear deal

Once the Iran nuclear accord survived the 60-day US Congressional review period, attention turned to how to prevent Iran from cheating and how to constrain its problematic behaviour in other areas. Less ink has been spilt, however, on how to expand on the deal to further reduce nuclear dangers and regional instability. Call me Pollyanna, but here are ten ways to build on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

1. Promote nuclear safety. Now that Iran is accepting international norms for transparency in nuclear safeguards, it has no reason not to accept global standards of transparency in nuclear safety. Iran’s failure to date to join the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Convention on Nuclear Safety – as every other state operating a nuclear power reactor has done – is of no little concern to its neighbours. An accident at the Bushehr reactor would send more radiation towards Gulf Arab capitals than it would towards Tehran. Iran should reassure the Gulf states by adopting the highest standard of nuclear safety and by inviting neighbours to participate in nuclear-safety peer reviews.

2. Promote nuclear security. For understandable reasons, Iran has not been invited to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) process. Once leadership in this field reverts to the IAEA upon completion of the last NSS in Washington next spring, Iran will play a role in the discussions. Its voice will hold more authority if it accedes to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the 2005 amendment to this convention. Fortunately, the United States itself finally ratified the amendment in July, and thus is in a stronger moral position to join other major powers in encouraging Iran to do likewise.

3. Build on Russian cooperation in the JCPOA. Moscow’s constructive role in the Iran nuclear negotiations was a rare area of cooperation with Western nations in the nuclear field. Although there was reason to think Russia’s national interests might be better served by keeping the Iran issue festering, it steadfastly held to a united front among the six major powers, giving Iran no opening to try to play them off against one another. Nuclear safety and security involving Iran are natural areas for continued cooperation among the six powers.

4. Make JCPOA verification measures the global norm. Iran’s acceptance of the Additional Protocol should give momentum to the push for this instrument to be mandatory for all states. At a minimum, the United States should make adherence to the Additional Protocol it a condition for future nuclear cooperation agreements. As I noted in the current edition of Survival, the Iran nuclear accord also went beyond the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Additional Protocol in several ways, setting useful precedents. The weaponisation work prohibited in the JCPOA should be regarded as part of the prohibition on nuclear-arms production that is outlawed by Article I of the NPT. Similarly, it should be recognised that the IAEA has a right and responsibility beyond the Iran case to verify nuclear-weaponisation work that does not necessarily include nuclear material. In addition, the ban on Iranian reprocessing and production of highly enriched uranium supports global efforts to stop fissile-material production.

5. Ban nuclear testing. The next natural step Iran can take to burnish non-proliferation credentials would be to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Elsewhere in the region, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be similarly encouraged – as should the United States, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea, so that the CTBT can come into force. It is probably unrealistic to think that these three might coordinate ratification, although almost nothing would better serve the goal of a nuclear-weapons free zone in the region, which at least Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have long promoted

6. Restrain missile development cooperatively. Iran’s worrisome development of longer-range missile systems might best be checked by a multi-party agreement that imposes mutual limits. A Middle East equivalent to the Treaty on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces between the US and Russia, as proposed by my colleague Michael Elleman, might target systems that fly over 3,000 km. Such a limit would preserve the systems Israel and Iran currently possess, but prevent systems that could threaten Europe and the United States. Meanwhile, keeping Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) constraints in place on Iran would effectively would mean that even after UN Security Council restrictions on missile development are removed in eight years, Iran still would not be able to benefit from international commerce in this field.

7. Maintain global restrictions on enrichment. The concession to legitimise uranium enrichment in Iran was necessary to strike a deal that limited this capability. It should not be used as an excuse for other states to pursue dual-use technologies that are not necessary for civilian nuclear programmes. The United Arab Emirates, for example, has no legal or strategic case for changing its position of forgoing enrichment and reprocessing. The United States should continue to promote this so-called ‘gold standard’ in its nuclear cooperation agreements. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines should maintain the restriction on transfer of this technology if there is a concern it will be used for proliferation purposes.

8. Prevent onward proliferation. There is legitimate concern, but no substantiated evidence, of nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Iran. Intelligence monitoring, the Proliferation Security Initiative, financial tracking and other counter-proliferation tools must be kept sharp to detect and block such illicit collaboration. Should any of Iran’s neighbours seek weapons-related technologies that they cannot obtain from NSG states, intelligence agencies must be on guard lest North Korea be approached as a black-market alternative.

9. Make use of new communication channels. Thanks to the nuclear negotiations, senior Iran and US officials communicated regularly for the first time in a generation. These communication channels have already proven to be useful in other areas. For example, Secretary of State John Kerry persuaded Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in April to turn around a ship convoy bound for Yemen, and later to use Iran’s influence with the Houthis to encourage them join ceasefire talks.

10. Foster transformational opportunities. Given the secular aspirations of its youthful population and the expectations for change that have been spurred by the nuclear accord, Iran may be on the cusp of positive political change. Watchful outsiders should not count on this, of course, but nor should they take steps that would impede it. As measures are adopted to constrain hegemonic Iranian activity, care should be exercised not to gratuitously insult the Iranian nation nor to overlook chances for fruitful dialogue.  Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself seems to be of two minds about further engagement. In April he suggested the possibility of negotiating on other issues with the United States, while in September he railed against dealing with the ‘Great Satan’. Like John F. Kennedy did in responding to mixed messages from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis, let’s choose the message that maximises peaceful outcomes.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme. This blog post draws on a presentation he gave at an Iran futures workshop in Wye, Maryland on 25 September, organised by the Nuclear Security Working Group.

Elizabeth Pond: Will Ukraine snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

The good news from Ukraine is that after half a year of intensive shelling across the Donbas ‘truce’ line, the big guns went silent on 1 September and have stayed silent ever since.

Russia has reined in the hotheads among its proxy separatists in eastern Ukraine who wanted to keep on fighting and seize more Ukrainian territory with the superior heavy weapons Moscow has showered on Donbas over the past year. Russia has also just initialled a deal to resume gas supplies to Ukraine at a competitive price over the winter months. And it has returned to Tallinn the Estonian security officer it kidnapped at gunpoint on Estonian soil a year ago, after first jailing him and sentencing him to 15 years for alleged spying.

At long last, then, Russian President Vladimir Putin's unwonted charm offensive in the Ukraine crisis makes Kiev’s race for a Western identity Ukraine’s to lose.

The bad news, however, is that Kiev may in fact manage to lose in the new peace what it gained in adversity, just as its forerunner Orange Revolution did a decade ago. Then, pro-democracy Euromaidan protesters forced a rerun of fraudulent elections to win Ukraine's presidency and a parliamentary majority for the first time since Ukraine became independent in 1991, only to destroy themselves through infighting at the top. Now, as Putin suspends his undeclared war on Ukraine, the original shock of that attack is already wearing off. The fear of more Russian land grabs that forced a core of Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs to cooperate in self-defence over the past year and a half has vanished. Political fratricide is back. Corruption as usual has resumed, albeit with fewer pots of state gold to plunder. The crucial political and legal reforms that President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk began are stalling.

This may seem like harsh judgment of a land that has already achieved miracles in the midst of its existential war. Within months it turned last year’s underfunded ragtag army of only 6,000 deployable soldiers into forces that fought well and came close to defeating Russian-armed rebel fighters – until Moscow sent in its own elite troops to bail out its proxies in August 2014. Millionaire Ukrainian tycoons financed formidable private militias that bore the brunt of battle in Donbas. The extraordinary civil society that the Euromaidan demonstrations spawned rallied to supply what the state did not; volunteers knitted socks and even imitation fibre vests to clothe and protect Ukraine’s defenders.

Politically, Ukrainians improvised an interim government after Putin’s henchman Victor Yanukovich failed to quell the Maidan demonstrators by having a hundred of them shot, and then fled into exile in Russia in February 2014. Voters, under the gun, nonetheless elected and legitimised a new president in May and a new parliament in October 2014. And the new parliament passed a series of urgently needed reform laws to curb graft, probe the murky energy sector and begin building nascent democratic institutions. Moreover, under Putin’s threat Ukrainians – for the first time in their history – forged consensus on a national identity as distinct from Russian and allied instead to European identity.

As peace breaks out, however, the heavily armed 9,000 Russian soldiers in Donbas and 50,000 others still massed just over the Russian border no longer seem menacing to Kiev – and the will to root out corruption and implement tough reform of Ukraine's post-Soviet kleptocracy is ebbing proportionately. In recent days former US ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer and current US ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt have both warned Kiev politicians publicly to stop squabbling and press on with reforms.

Pifer hailed ‘the most reform-minded cabinet in Ukraine’s history’, but charged that ‘oligarchs continue to play an outsized and unhealthy role in the country’s politics…Some politicians are turning to populism…The key relationship between Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk is fragile’. Voters are disenchanted with the sluggish reform: ‘The post-Maidan honeymoon is over.’

More bluntly, Ambassador Pyatt declared: ‘Corruption kills…Ukraine can, and must, address the problem of corruption now…Rather than supporting Ukraine’s reforms and working to root out corruption, corrupt actors within the Prosecutor General’s office are making things worse by openly and aggressively undermining reform. In defiance of Ukraine’s leaders, these bad actors regularly hinder efforts to investigate and prosecute corrupt officials within the prosecutor general’s office.’

Even more acerbically, Taras Kuzio, senior fellow at the University of Alberta's Institute of Ukrainian Studies, pans the Kiev government's entire record on fighting corruption. Ukraine claims that 2,702 former officials have been convicted of corruption, he writes, but won't reveal their names. The ‘billionaire-cum-politician Poroshenko’ has failed to ‘follow through on his promises to combat the pervasive influence of the oligarchs…The business empires of Yanukovich’s allies, including his eldest son Oleksandr, are still in place in eastern Ukraine, and they continue to profit from them.’ The Interior Ministry is ‘bloated, corrupt, and incompetent … The prosecutor’s office, massively over-manned and itself corrupt to the core, has remained virtually untouched. Poroshenko has compounded the problem by appointing incompetent and corrupt chief prosecutors who quickly discredited themselves through inaction or by defending their corrupt colleagues…Pro-Russian forces and oligarchs are untouched by Ukraine’s corrupt judicial system and remain as powerful as before.’

A comparison with the implosion of the Orange Revolution of 2004 is sobering. Then as now, euphoria reigned after pro-European Maidan protests forced a repeat election and Victor Yushchenko became president. For a few fleeting months fear of a Russian-backed Yanukovich restoration forced the oligarchs – who had become rich by buying privatised state assets cheaply in sweetheart political deals – to negotiate seriously about going legitimate, paying their taxes and redeeming their debt to society by good social and charitable works. Unfortunately, however, Yushchenko and his co-leader at Maidan, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, had a bitter falling-out. The feud paralysed the government, halted the evolution of robber barons into civic benefactors, reinstated backroom crony capitalism, disgusted the public and handed the presidency back to Yanukovich, this time in a fair election. That moment of transformation was lost.

So far today’s infighting among politicians and oligarchs has not reached the destructive nadir of a decade ago. But the tensions are clear. The small nationalist right includes hardliners who want to keep on fighting Russians in Donbas despite the formal year-long truce and the folly of provoking Putin's huge army. Most spectacularly, a month ago the right staged a violent protest outside parliament against devolving power to the separatist territory in the east, as agreed on in the German-led ‘Minsk’ truces of September 2014 and February 2015. Three National Guardsmen were killed when a veteran of the eastern front threw a grenade at them, and some hundred policemen were injured in the mêlée that followed.

The ongoing political feuds at the top are more dangerous. President Poroshenko is letting his protégé, ex-Georgian president and present Odesa governor Mikheil Saakashvili, run a campaign to topple Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, whose popular support has in any case eroded to 2–3%. Oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky – who was fired from his post as Dnipropetrovsk governor last March by Poroshenko after armed men from Kolomoisky’s private militia occupied the buildings of Ukraine’s largest gas and oil extracting company – is campaigning actively against the president. Yulia Tymoshenko – the main protagonist in the feud that doomed the earlier Orange Revolution and now a member of parliament – has told confidants that she expects President Poroshenko’s party to lose heavily in the upcoming local elections and pave the way for early presidential elections in the spring, which she will win.

The good news, then, is the same as the bad news: Ukraine’s vaunted adoption of a Western identity is now Kiev’s to lose.

Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist and author. She has contributed several articles to Survival, most recently ‘Serbia Reinvents Itself’, in vol. 55, no. 4, August–September 2013, pp. 7–30.

Massimo Franco: A Latin American Pope Arrives

For months, Pope Francis has been telling his closest advisers that he wants to arrive in the United States via the south of the American continent. Now he is following through on that symbolic geography. The Pope’s 22–27 September visit to the United States matters in both strategic and domestic terms. Touching US soil after a three-day stop in Cuba is already a remarkable novelty. It is as if Pope Francis wants to show that his horizons are broader than just Washington, the White House and the United Nations. In all, it is a reminder that he is a Latin American pontiff: a moral and possibly political leader of South America, keen to reaffirm his role as mediator between President Barack Obama and Raúl Castro’s ailing communist regime. US diplomats admit that they were taken quite by surprise by the decision of this Argentinian Pope, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, to visit Havana en route.

Francis’s strategy is to rid the world of relics of the Cold War; to do what it takes to avoid a new one; and continue in alliance with a US-led West – but not prejudicially. It is not just a matter of geopolitics: primarily, it is geo-religion. For the Catholic Church, the division between West and East, democracy and communism, the US and the Soviet Union had direct consequences within the episcopates.

In the second half of the last century, the Catholic world was squeezed in Latin America by the dramatic choice between sustaining (or at least not opposing) military authoritarian regimes, often backed by the US, or embracing Marxist-leaning liberation theology. Facing this choice provoked tension and conflict within the Latin American Catholic community. And Francis himself was both an observer and a victim of this self-destructive spiral. The elaboration by the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires of a ‘theology of the people’, an original Argentinian (and Peronist) version of liberation theology – and an anti-communist one, too – was an attempt to heal episcopates, in the first instance, as well as Latin American societies.

The fact that Francis has opened a dialogue with former liberation theologians does not mean he is a convert. He considers Marxism dead, and incapable these days of doing much damage. His goal is a new alliance based on different premises and cultural paradigms; and an alliance made with the leadership of the Catholic Church, not with Marxist caudillos. But in the US, conservatives went immediately on the attack. ‘The Holy Father is a native of 20th-century Argentina,’ wrote Mary Anastasia O’Grady in the Wall Street Journal, ‘ideologically defined by nationalism, socialism, corporatism and anti-Americanism.’ She quoted Mexican historian Enrique Krauze, for whom ‘Latin Americanism, especially in the South, was also anti-Yankeeism.’

These convictions are the source of the accusation that Francis is peddling Marxism. But the accusation also stems from an inability to understand Bergoglio’s roots and personal experience; to admit the existence of an ‘alternative West’; and to recognise the Pope’s long hostility to communism. Social opening does not mean Marxism. The third way between socialism and capitalism has always been the beacon of the Catholic Church – which prefers the latter, as a guarantee of religious freedom.

For more on the challenges facing Pope Francis, read 'Within the Sacred Walls', Massimo Franco's review essay in the October–November 2014 issue of Survival.

Massimo Franco is a political columnist for the leading Italian daily Corriere della Sera. He is the author of The Crisis in the Vatican Empire (Mondadori, 2013) and The Vatican According to Francis: From Buenos Aires to Santa Marta (Mondador, 2014). An updated edition of Parallel Empires: The Vatican and the US, Two Centuries of Alliance and Conflict, will soon be published by Corriere della Sera.

Avis Bohlen: Iran – An Opening for Diplomacy?

Negotiation is an essential tool of diplomacy, as weapons are of war. The recently concluded Iran deal represents a major diplomatic achievement arrived at by long and patient negotiation. Its significance is likely to go far beyond the terms of the accord itself and must be judged in a broader diplomatic and strategic context. The Iran nuclear deal is important first and foremost for the stringent limits it places on Iran’s nuclear programmes – the principal goal of the negotiations. US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been quick to deny that expectations of broader detente were in any way the premise for the negotiation. But the agreement does, in fact, have the potential to open up the frozen dialogue between the US and Iran and permit a broader discussion of urgent regional issues. This potential unblocking of the relationship could be one of the agreement’s great rewards.

The principal features of the Iran nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), have been amply discussed elsewhere. Coming into the negotiations, Iran possessed a large stockpile of enriched uranium and some 20,000 centrifuges. Before the E3/EU+3 and Iran concluded the November 2013 interim deal, Iran was rapidly expanding its centrifuge capacity at a rate of 700 per month, and was preparing to operate even more capable centrifuges. It possesses an underground uranium-enrichment facility at Fordow that is less vulnerable to airstrikes, and was about a year or so away from completing a heavy-water reactor at Arak that would potentially provide a plutonium path to a nuclear weapon. According to US estimates, Iran possesses enough uranium (if enriched further) to produce eight to ten bombs. Its breakout time (the time it would need to produce enough uranium enriched to the 90% U-235 level needed for a nuclear weapon) was estimated at two to three months.

The JCPOA will effectively block Iran’s multiple pathways to a nuclear weapon for the next 15 years. Tehran has agreed to give up 98% of its enriched-uranium stockpile and limit the residual stockpile to 300kg for 15 years. Its number of centrifuges will be reduced by two-thirds. Furthermore, the agreement delays the introduction of more advanced centrifuges; bans any enrichment at Fordow for the duration of the agreement; requires the destruction of the core of the heavy-water reactor at Arak; and puts in place intrusive verification measures that go far beyond what was possible under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and even the Additional Protocol to its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement, effectively blocking a covert path to the development of a nuclear weapon. The JCPOA also permanently prohibits activities that could contribute to the design and development of a nuclear device. In short, the terms of the agreement are comprehensive and verifiable and will reduce the time it would take Iran to acquire enough highly enriched uranium to make a bomb from a few months to at least a year. Should Iran fail to live up to its side of the bargain, ‘snapback’ provisions will allow the immediate reimposition of sanctions.

The agreement is, of course, being stridently attacked in certain quarters in the US. Interestingly, critics have not, for the most part, argued that either the constraints on the programme or the stringent monitoring requirements would be ineffective. Rather, they have first of all criticised the limited duration of the agreement: when the limitations on civilian nuclear capacity expire in 15 years, Iran will be theoretically free to resume its centrifuge production. Many have criticised the agreement because it did not impose a total ban on all enrichment activities by Iran. Finally, critics have argued that the JCPOA failed to deal with other contentious issues in relations with Iran such as human rights.

Unquestionably, the JCPOA is far from perfect. It could hardly be otherwise. Both sides made compromises to come to an agreement and both sides moved further from their initial positions than they would have expected at the outset. Iranian redlines were reportedly crossed. Security issues, notoriously intractable and sensitive, were at the heart of the negotiation on all sides. For Tehran, there were hard trade-offs between restricting the prized nuclear programme that it regards as a vital interest, and the lifting of the onerous sanctions that are crippling its economy. Security issues were at stake for the other participants too: preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and thus lessening the danger of conflict in the Middle East, reducing the threat to Israel, as well as the risk of further proliferation in an already-turbulent region.

The limited duration of the agreement is unquestionably its biggest shortcoming, although many of the allegations about how quickly Iran could break out and develop a nuclear weapon after 15 years are overblown. (Certain stringent monitoring requirements will remain in place for longer, for example on production of centrifuge machines for 20 years and on uranium mining and milling for 25.) Under the JCPOA, Iran also commits to permanent international inspections under the terms of the Additional Protocol, which provides for wider access, including timely visits to undeclared sites of concern, whether military or civilian. But it is certainly true that the agreement has not permanently eliminated the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran; there was little prospect of it doing so. Looking at the history of such agreements, this one could fail in many ways. We can expect further wrangling over the timing of the lifting of sanctions relative to Iran’s implementation of its side of the agreement. It will not eliminate, though it may lessen, the danger of regional nuclear proliferation. Agreements involving nuclear issues are notoriously vulnerable to political winds on the home front. The internal political dynamics of Iran are murky to say the least; if the fruits of the agreement appear too meagre, hardliners in Tehran may gain the upper hand and seek to reverse it. The much-touted absence of a withdrawal clause would not prevent Iran, a sovereign nation, from acting in its own perceived best interests. The possibility that Iran might find ways of cheating despite the stringent monitoring provisions cannot be ruled out. We may never get satisfactory answers to our questions about its possible weaponisation practices. In short, we may have to live with more uncertainty than we would like; opponents of the agreement in both the US and Iran will exploit the inevitable difficult moments.

So there is certainly risk. We do not trust the Iranians and they do not trust us. Arms-control or nuclear-limitation agreements are not concluded between friends and allies, but between adversaries. At this point, Iran remains more adversary than partner.

But, as advocates have compellingly pointed out, not going through with the JCPOA presents greater risks. Without the constraints of an agreement, Iran could continue to produce centrifuges at a rapid rate. It would be free to move to a new and more powerful generation of centrifuges. It could restart its weaponisation programmes. Development of the heavy-water reactor at Arak would move forward, giving the Iranians a plutonium path to a nuclear weapon. All of this – coupled with the uncertainty, in the absence of a tight verification regime, of not knowing – would increase tensions.

If the US blocks the agreement, we will be isolated. Our allies and partners are unlikely to acquiesce in the careless rejection of an agreement so painstakingly arrived at; nor would they – especially the Russians and the Chinese – be inclined to maintain the stringent sanctions that were crucial to bringing the Iranians to negotiate seriously. We would be back where we were two years ago, but in reality worse off, without any hope of a successful agreement and more importantly without leverage. Meanwhile, as Iran moved ahead with acquiring more centrifuges and ever more enriched uranium, there would be, for want of any other options, a drumbeat of calls for military action. As has often been pointed out, airstrikes would do no more than retard the programme for a year or two at best and guarantee that Tehran regarded a nuclear weapon as a vital necessity. We would have once again marched into a dead end. And our credibility with allies and partners alike would be seriously compromised. Opponents argue that a better deal is available, and some of them may even believe this. But it is a fantasy. The Iranians would not return to the negotiating table. Our allies and partners would not follow us. It would be a different ball game.

Risk and opportunity

There is, however, an additional argument for the JCPOA. If the agreement carries some risk, it also creates potential opportunities. For at least 15 years, the nuclear issue has been the central obstacle in our relations with Iran, effectively standing in the way of any broader dialogue between the US and one of the most important countries in the Middle East. In freezing Iran’s nuclear programme for 15 years, we have accepted some risk but more importantly we have bought time and may have created new openings. We should be wary of predicting any kind of a breakthrough. From the US perspective, major obstacles stand in the way of improved relations with Tehran: Iranian support for terrorism, in particular Hizbullah and Hamas; its public calls for the destruction of the state of Israel; its support for the Assad regime in Syria; its disregard for human rights; and indeed the regime itself and its deep-rooted antagonism towards the US, the ‘Great Satan’. Obama and Kerry have been at pains to disavow any larger ambition than that of freezing Iran’s nuclear programme. Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei has similarly been quick to emphasise that Iranian relations with the US will not change, and that Iranian policy will continue to support Hizbullah, Hamas and the Syrian regime.

Nevertheless, much can happen in 15 years. A lifting of sanctions will begin to bring Iran back into the world economy with unforeseen consequences. It is estimated that sanctions relief will greatly boost Iran’s oil exports and substantially increase GDP. Khamenei notwithstanding, some leading figures in Iran, including President Hassan Rouhani, have made no secret of their hope that the nuclear agreement will lead to a broader dialogue. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif specifically said to Kerry, ‘If we get this finished, I am now empowered to work with and talk to you about regional issues’. The US side certainly has similar hopes. There is an urgent list of regional issues – beginning with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and Syria – on which the two countries might engage. It would certainly be imprudent to venture too far into further speculation at this point. But it is not impossible to hope that a calming of fears on the nuclear front – the knowledge that Iran is not racing for a bomb – may help to ease some of the tensions between Iran and its neighbours. The regional ambitions of Iran and other Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia, will certainly continue to conflict. It will take a great deal more to lessen Israel’s very understandable fears of Iran. But the nuclear dimension will be in abeyance. In short, the nuclear deal may help to break the ice in the long-frozen Iranian–US relationship.

Finding common ground

The Cold War was a vastly different era but there are points of similarity. The results of long years of US–Soviet arms-control negotiations were a mixed bag at best, as I have written elsewhere; until the Gorbachev–Reagan era these agreements did little to control the arms race or to limit expenditure on nuclear weapons. They were important nevertheless because they initiated a dialogue between the two superpowers on nuclear issues that continued on and off for three decades. In a world living with the threat of nuclear war, the very fact of these discussions helped to calm fears. In a larger sense, they created a climate in which other discussions could proceed. As with the Soviet Union, we face in Tehran a fundamentally antagonistic regime whose hostility is durably rooted in ideology. History suggests that while this will preclude close relationships, it need not be an obstacle to finding common ground on a limited range of issues of mutual interest.

An important difference is that even at the height of the Cold War, we had an embassy in Moscow, with trained diplomats who spoke Russian and were experts on the Soviet Union. The day we establish an embassy in Tehran is regrettably probably far off. (It seems fashionable, if bizarre, to see the establishment of diplomatic relations as a ‘reward’ to the country in question.) There is no doubt, however, that the absence of diplomatic representation on the spot has deprived us of a valuable diplomatic tool. Embassies are no guarantee of good relations but there is no substitute for an on-the-spot listening and observation post.

Many critics of the agreement allege they are not against a deal with Iran, but believe that we should go back to the negotiating table and hold out for a better one. (We should perhaps count it as progress that they are least using the rhetoric of negotiation rather than military force.) Some, however, are well aware that the notion of a better deal is fantasy. Their goal, consciously or not, is to torpedo any negotiation with Iran – any agreement, any opening, any dialogue. A long-standing American tradition of suspicion of diplomacy remains alive and well in certain neoconservative circles. This tradition resists negotiation with morally abhorrent regimes such as Iran (or North Korea or the Soviet Union), the thinking being that negotiation creates pressure for an agreement, which in turn creates pressures for compromise. Negotiation requires us to interact with these regimes and in doing so we give them legitimacy. An agreement creates ambiguity and risk and muddies the ‘moral clarity’ (a cherished phrase) of our stance. In this view, any agreement with those who do not share our values is inherently impermanent and bound to fall apart. Better therefore to avoid negotiation or meaningful dialogue in the first place. This path, unfortunately, takes us into a blind alley from which the only lasting exit can be regime change, more often than not requiring the application of force. Since the beginning of this century we have seen too often where this path will lead. It is at a minimum strewn with missed opportunities.

The Iran nuclear deal is a triumph for diplomacy, a reaffirmation of the view that complex issues should be resolved wherever possible through dialogue and discussion rather than through confrontation. It built upon many months of quiet diplomacy laying the groundwork for a serious negotiation; many months of patient bargaining by the diplomats of six countries (including, on the US side, the able team led by Wendy Sherman); and the constant effort necessary to maintain a common position with our European allies as well as Russia and China – not exactly our best friends at the moment. Agreement would not have been reached, it need hardly be said, without the formidable commitment of time and energy by Kerry and not least of all the political will and support shown by Obama. In our America-centric view of the world, we often overlook the contributions made by our negotiating partners; but these were often significant. But of course without the US there would have been no deal.

The agreement represented a choice to follow this uncertain road rather than the equally uncertain and far more dangerous road of confrontation. It has created possible openings for further diplomacy and it will be up to the diplomats to explore these openings and carry them forward. The goal of good diplomacy is to increase one’s options and expand one’s room for manoeuvre. The Iran deal may well have done just that.

This commentary will appear in the October–November 2015 issue of Survival.

Avis Bohlen is a retired US diplomat. Among other positions, she served as Assistant Secretary for Arms Control (1999–2002) and Ambassador to Bulgaria (1996–99).

Thomas C. Moore: Iran – Non-Proliferation Overshadowed

The world’s major powers once agreed that Iran was no place for uranium enrichment or the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. United after 9/11 and the jarring revelation of the A.Q. Khan proliferation network, they worked to defeat nuclear proliferation and terrorism – and the nexus of the two in Iran – without military force. They launched criteria-of-supply negotiations in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG); a moratorium on transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technology to new countries in what was then the G8; passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1887, and others demanding Iran suspend its nuclear programme; a coalition for proliferation interdiction called the Proliferation Security Initiative; assurances of nuclear-fuel supply, fuel banks and spent-fuel return, in Russia and with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); and new treaties, as well as amendments to existing ones, designed to interdict and defeat nuclear trafficking.

The non-military non-proliferation deeds of the first decade of this century are now overshadowed by the July 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. The tools that succeeded beyond all other non-military means in changing Iran’s behaviour were the sanctions this deal abolishes. The innovation of those sanctions was that they were not only aimed at states proliferating to Iran, or designed to apply after an Iranian nuclear test. They targeted Iran’s crown jewels of oil and other natural resources, industries and their exports, financing, shipping and banking infrastructure – including people and corporate entities – to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The heart of the deal is the abolition of sanctions in exchange for extending Iran’s breakout time (the length of time it would take to produce material for a nuclear weapon) for a limited period. A better approach would have kept Iran at the table for years, with progressive waiving of sanctions and a corresponding continuation of limits Iran had agreed to extend a number of times already. A better approach would have aimed for more than a year’s breakout time – a duration of relevance to the negotiating countries too, should they need time to enforce an agreement with any means other than war. The sanctions that now remain will not be effective in changing Iran’s behaviour. Iran will be more able to engage in normal arms, nuclear and dual-use technology trade even while it continues its regional military campaigns, and ballistic- and cruise-missile programmes.

Iran did not stop enriching uranium even during the sanctions that brought it to the negotiating table. That does not mean we have to either capitulate or bomb Iran. Nuclear resistance is not only Iranian. It has been Iraqi, Libyan and North Korean, with varying responses in return. But all states intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, when caught, usually hold capability and bargain with it. The Iran deal – more formally, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – is a bad bargain. Because it ends the best sanctions and its nuclear concessions are too large, it will lead to more arguments among its negotiating parties, and other nations quite apart from Iran. Where it applies limits to Iran’s activities, it does so on a temporary and infirm basis. It will grow, not freeze or roll back, the problem.

Sanctions gone

The remaining US nuclear sanctions punish proliferation from one state to another, and can freeze all foreign assistance when a state detonates a bomb. The JCPOA unlocks supplies of technology and money to Iran, and old US laws are ineffective because they have the wrong target – proliferation to and from states, not, as now to be seen in Iran, within one. Even if these old laws are effective on occasion, they are unilateral, and the JCPOA, by permitting Iran access to dual-use nuclear, missile and military weapons technology – the coordinated relaxation so praised in the deal – will result in disconcerting global arguments over exports to Iran within the JCPOA’s Joint Commission, the IAEA and the UN Security Council.

The unblocking of accounts and unfreezing of US assets, as well as more generous terms for crude oil, will free up credit and hard currency for Iran. Considering just the funds the JCPOA’s sanctions abolition may repatriate to the Iranian Central Bank, almost $60 billion will come home to Tehran. That is nearly twice the total amount of worldwide US foreign economic assistance in 2012. If America tries to halt atomic progress in Iran, whether under the JCPOA, in the IAEA or in the UN Security Council, it will have a hard time doing so if its own laws are the basis for attempting international cooperation. 

Moreover, the American laws in which executive non-proliferation sanctions authority resides are inadequate. The US International Emergency Economic Powers Act, allowing the president to use emergency powers to keep executive-order sanctions and embargoes in place with few challenges in US courts, expired long ago and is continued on the basis of executive order. Because of US export-control reform, the American Arms Export Control Act and its implementing regulations are permissive: many items formerly controlled by the United States as significant military equipment and major defence equipment that are now designated as commercial military equipment will find their way from Europe to Iran. Even the Iran Sanctions Act is set to expire in 2016. The US Atomic Energy and Nuclear Nonproliferation acts date back to a time when America was a reactor supplier to Iran. Reform has relaxed export controls to Europe and China more than at any time since sanctions on proliferation were augmented under the US Enhanced Proliferation Control Initiative on states proliferating to Iraq in the 1990s.

Conceding ground

The deal’s primary concession is to permit Iran to have a national uranium-enrichment capability, which the JCPOA will allow to grow over time. Iran will never have been forced to abandon enrichment – neither before nor during the deal, and certainly not after it. Its enrichment capacity will dramatically increase in the JCPOA’s later stages. Iran retains a research and development programme to make faster and more reliable centrifuges, though monitored and not permitted to be for the purpose of enriching uranium. Iran would also have much more unseparated plutonium on hand if it were to jettison the Non-Proliferation Treaty, owing to deals with its existing reactor supplier, Russia, and new reactors from China – quite apart from that produced by the Arak heavy-water reactor, even as modified. In fact, Iran will add hundreds more significant quantities (bombs’ worth) of unseparated plutonium, annually, to the global stockpile of spent fuel. For now, most of that spent fuel will return to Russia, but reprocessing, while easier to detect than enrichment, is not barred by the NPT – and Russia is no longer a reliable international partner for the West.

The JCPOA, secondly, is a temporary limitation assumed by Iran only on a voluntary basis, thus increasing regional proliferation tension. The JCPOA gives this away with reference to the ‘broader conclusion’ about Iran’s programme that, if reached by the IAEA, would lead to the lifting of all European Union proliferation-related sanctions and Iranian ratification of the Additional Protocol. Who else might want a broader conclusion? Saudi Arabia has never clarified its own civilian nuclear aspirations, alongside the proliferation hints it has made in response to Iran.

Thirdly, the physical reduction of items and material, and the upper limit on the number of sites, facilities and locations in Iran where it can continue its nuclear activities and spin centrifuges, rely on what is already known about Iran’s programme. Access to undeclared (as well as decommissioned) sites is not ‘anytime, anywhere’, as had been expected. Even if an argument over managed access to an undeclared facility is confined to 24 days, what then? The JCPOA has built a month’s delay into an agreement that sets Iran’s breakout time at one year. Moreover, the managed-access provision harms, rather than helps, the Additional Protocol. That agreement’s ‘complementary’ access provision is a significant innovation over comprehensive safeguards agreements’ rarely used ‘special inspections’. All three of these mechanisms can be carried out in Iran, under its safeguards agreements and the JCPOA. But by delaying ratification of its Additional Protocol, Iran has made sure that access to military sites rests on voluntary agreements. For its most sensitive sites, this means only managed access.

Under the JCPOA, IAEA verification activities in Iran designed to resolve concerns about activities of a possible military dimension end on 15 October 2015. Depending on what happens on that date, Iran’s arrangements may not be substantially different than the voluntary-offer safeguards and additional protocols the IAEA has agreed with nuclear-weapons states. Moreover, even if a managed-access inspection at a decommissioned military site in Iran takes place, Iran can hide co-located installations within facilities and locations the IAEA cannot inspect. It appears, from what has been reported of Iran’s agreement with the IAEA on activities of a possible military dimension, that inspections could take place only to end up with ambiguous results, wrongly confirming, to Iran’s benefit, the absence of such activities.

What is more, blithe assertions of the United States’ (or another intelligence community’s) ability to detect violations ignore the fact that acting on information gained from covert or national-technical means relies on the credibility of the nation declassifying and leaking intelligence. As such, this information is prone to multilateral challenge from states that did not share in its collection. The United States attempted this kind of counter-proliferation with flawed intelligence about Iraq, and failed to convince. What makes the deal’s supporters confident that it would have the necessary credibility to stop Iran?

Lastly, Iran will have a reduced stockpile of 300kg of uranium hexafluoride and other chemical forms, enriched to 3.67% U235; 5,060 first-generation centrifuges; and its stockpile of triuranium octoxide enriched to 20% will be reduced and eliminated. These limits do not all occur at once, but over time – and then only for a limited period. These numbers result from negotiators prioritising the goal of a year’s breakout time, based on declared sites and using declared material. But, in failing to achieve in a binding way – before the deal comes into effect – an additional protocol, an IAEA ‘broader conclusion’ and resolution of the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme, the deal’s sequencing and mixing of voluntary and binding measures risks encouraging proliferation, in Iran and elsewhere in the region.

If Iran is again caught violating its nuclear obligations, this deal has created tripwires for war and virulent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. In the meantime, arms sales from the negotiating parties will assist their respective regional allies in fighting a number of ongoing wars. Russian arms sales to Iran, in particular, will increase. The current US president has threatened, if the deal is rejected (not if it is violated), a war that would be global in its consequences. Iran will be emboldened to entice that result with its weaker interpretations of the JCPOA.

What is suggested by all of this is, in all candour, risky. To undermine a deal like this imposes another set of challenges, even if the reasons for undermining it are sound. In this vein, the deal has produced uncertainty whether or not it is actually implemented. That uncertainty deters us, not Iran. And it encourages and assists Iran, not us. 

This commentary will appear in the October–November 2015 issue of Survival.

Thomas C. Moore was a Senior Republican Professional Staff Member for arms control, arms sales and non-proliferation in the United States Senate from 2003–13.

Bruno Tertrais: Iran – An Experiment in Strategic Risk-Taking

The luxury of being a policy analyst is that one can afford to say what politicians cannot: ‘it’s complicated’. If I had been voting on the 14 July nuclear deal with Iran, I would have had to abstain.

American and European diplomats worked hard to close most of the avenues and loopholes that Iran could exploit to advance its nuclear programme. The enriched-uranium stockpile and the number of centrifuges will be significantly reduced. The plutonium route is blocked. The list of prohibited activities is impressive, as is the scope of monitoring – from uranium mines to procurement channels. The E3/EU+3 (France, Germany and the UK, plus China, Russia and the United States) have been creative in ensuring that the threat of reimposing sanctions is not hollow. And whatever happens next, the patient efforts of the E3/EU+3 since 2006, along with the harshest non-proliferation sanctions ever imposed, will have demonstrated that illegal nuclear proliferation is costly. Simply put, this is the most detailed non-proliferation agreement ever devised. But it nevertheless includes several problematic aspects, which deserve careful scrutiny.

The original goal of the E3/EU+3 was for Tehran to make a strategic choice – to turn 180 degrees and agree to forfeit any capability to rapidly build nuclear weapons. Since 2006, however, the goalposts have been moved.

A renowned expert supporting the deal recently incited readers to follow Nietzsche’s dictum: ‘the most common form of human stupidity is forgetting what one is trying to do’. The argument can be turned against his thesis, for we did forget what our specific objective was. Around 2012, under US pressure, the E3/EU+3 abandoned roll-back in favour of containment. And in 2014, the envisioned duration of the key provisions of the deal moved from a generation to a decade. Iran has become a nuclear-threshold state, and it will remain one, with our blessing. This is bad news: persuading countries in the region and elsewhere to forsake fuel-cycle activities has suddenly become much more problematic.

After investing billions of dollars and the effort of hundreds of scientists and engineers, not to take the final step requires stopping a powerful momentum. When is the last time that after such a long, dedicated military-oriented effort, a country reached the nuclear threshold and just stopped there, without ever building a device? It has never happened. Countries do not give up when they have invested so much, unless they are forced to do so after a major war (as Iraq was), or when regime change comes (as it did in Brazil and South Africa). Sweden had invested a lot in a military nuclear option in the 1950s and 1960s before terminating its nuclear programme, but not as much as the Islamic Republic. Unless there is a sea change in the nature of the regime, a complete cessation is unlikely to happen. It is regrettable, by the way, that Iran was not requested to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) – its abstention makes the scenario of a hypothetical ‘peaceful nuclear explosion’ (such as the one India carried out in 1974) not far-fetched.

Legitimate questions also arise about the deal’s verification procedures. It is not known whether the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have access to scientists – a key necessity, according to the inspectors themselves. The delay in resolving questions about suspicious activities, which could reach up to 24 days, may be too long to allow for the timely detection of some forbidden activities, particularly if they involve non-nuclear activities or very small quantities of nuclear materials.

The IAEA–Iran road map that aims to clarify the so-called ‘possible military dimensions’ (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear programme is another area of concern. After several years of stonewalling and procrastinating, we can hardly expect Iran suddenly to either give credible explanations for all its suspect activities, or to admit that it has conducted weaponisation experiments. It is thus logical to believe that there will be a tacit understanding among all parties to hide them under the rug. This would be a bad precedent for the non-proliferation regime and the credibility of the IAEA. So would the lifting of the remaining US sanctions before the IAEA has reached its ‘broader conclusion’ that all nuclear material in Iran remains in exclusively peaceful use.

A short time in politics

The deal’s main flaw, even assuming that implementation goes smoothly for more than a decade, is its short duration. (The agreement will last roughly the same amount of time as it took to negotiate, if one starts with the 2003 European effort). President Barack Obama does not hide the fact that he is kicking the can down the road, and time is certainly a valuable commodity in international diplomacy. But a decade is a short time both by the Islamic Republic’s standards and by those of slow-motion, incremental nuclear programmes such as Tehran’s. Fifteen years ago, as the first signs of an illegal military-oriented nuclear programme in Iran were becoming clear, I had a conversation with a senior French diplomat that ended in the following way: ‘Anyway, in ten years Iran will be a democracy, and democracies don’t build nuclear weapons.’ He was wrong on both counts. (Reminder: the majority of the current possessors of nuclear weapons are fully fledged democracies.) The eternal hope of Western diplomats is that authoritarian regimes are on the wrong side of history and therefore cannot last long. But sometimes they do. In 1994, some US negotiators were persuaded that the Pyongyang regime would have collapsed by 2004. The now happily retired French diplomat does not have to deal with the consequences of his bad judgement. Neither will the negotiators of the 14 July deal, except for the younger ones.

Iran’s ability to maintain large quantities of centrifuges is not concerning per se – after all, Germany and the Netherlands, which are non-nuclear countries that no one would suspect of being interested in nuclear weapons, do so. (The irony is that the E3/EU+3 legitimised an enrichment programme that is not large enough – and not needed – for its domestic power plants consumption, even though they have agreed that Iran would only have an enrichment programme ‘consistent with [its] practical needs’). Likewise, I have no quarrel with the fact that the agreement did not cover ballistic missiles: the Iranians can rightly argue that they need them for their conventional defence. But no non-nuclear country in the world maintains an enrichment programme that makes no sense in economic terms. And no non-nuclear country, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, possesses medium-to-long-range ballistic missiles. Iran has both. This in itself is reason to doubt the (unsubstantiated) claim that Iran never wanted to cross the threshold.

Japan is sometimes mentioned (including by some Iranians) as a model for a ‘nuclear threshold’ Iran. The comparison is wrong on three counts. Firstly, Japan’s enrichment programme has a clear rationale: to produce one-third of the fuel for its reactors to mitigate the effects of any political or economic changes that could affect the reliability of foreign supplies. Secondly, Japan does not have ballistic missiles (while some of Iran’s missiles have been tested for carrying a nuclear-type payload) and its space launchers would have to be modified and tested to carry nuclear weapons. Thirdly, there is no evidence of Japanese work on weaponisation.

Iran will not be allowed to have any research reactors able to quickly generate large quantities of weapons-grade plutonium. But by year 15 (around 2030), Iran will be allowed to build as many heavy-water reactors and reprocessing plants as it wants. Is this too far in the future for us to worry about? Not when one remembers that several nuclear countries embraced the plutonium route only after they had made their first weapons using highly enriched uranium (HEU).

Let us assume that Iran will maintain its weaponisation expertise. After all, a former French ambassador to Tehran publicly boasted a few years ago that he advised his Iranian friends to simply put it in a locker. François Nicoullaud writes: ‘I told him [a close friend of Rouhani] of a similar case in Europe when a country had to implement the freshly signed Chemical Weapons Convention. The researchers were given enough time and funds to archive all the data they had collected in order to protect their achievements for the future. A while later, my interlocutor happily reported: “I conveyed your message ... It worked!” My conviction that these officials were talking about the weaponization program was reinforced when the November 2011 IAEA report about the termination of that programme noted that “staff remained in place to record and document the achievements of their respective projects”.’

 By 2025–30, providing its weaponisation expertise is solid, Iran will be technically in a position to make, in a matter of months, a nuclear weapon that can be carried by a medium-range ballistic missile. By year 15 of the deal, producing one bomb’s worth of HEU might take less than two weeks; and after a few more years, it might only be a matter of days. And by the end of the deal, if it had not ratified the Additional Protocol, Iran could just stop its ‘voluntary’ implementation.

But it may even be a delusion to believe that we have at least gained 10–15 years. There is no reason to believe that Tehran will change its strategic behaviour. Based on what it has been doing since the mid-1980s, one can bet that the Islamic Republic will test the West’s resolve over and over, re-interpreting the agreement’s clauses, procrastinating and showing goodwill on some sites only to better hinder access to others. Remember the joint US–UK Operation Desert Fox, a major offensive against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in 1998, after excessive Iraqi footdragging? And can we really count on the threat of ‘snapback’? Reimposing sanctions will be hard when hundreds of Western, Russian and Chinese companies flourish in Iran. In this sense the enforcement mechanism of the Vienna agreement is the equivalent of massive retaliation. Does Iran see it as a credible deterrent? As per the threat of military action, unless Iran did something as insane as secretly building a nuclear device, Tehran almost certainly sees such a threat as hollow.

A change is not going to come

It is unlikely that the nuclear agreement will trigger positive change in the Middle East. This is not a downside of the deal per se – more an element to be taken into account when doing a net assessment of its costs and benefits. Forget about US–Iran ‘reconciliation’ (an inappropriate word anyway, as if this was a marriage dispute): the Vienna deal is transactional, not transformational. For Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei, a modus vivendi with the US requires first an American capitulation in the Middle East. As Iranian conservatives put it, opposition to the West is in the regime’s political DNA. It can even be feared that Khamenei will want to tighten the screws to show who is boss, and limit the political space opened to President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Iran’s financial benefit from the lifting of sanctions will help. Western and Iranian interests will continue to diverge in Iraq (where the West seeks an inclusive, not Shia-dominated, government) and in Syria (where Iran has doubled down on its support of the regime, even though it may be ready to sacrifice Bashar al-Assad). Iran is fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) because it is in its own interests to do so. And there is already de facto coordination between the coalition and Iran to fight ISIS in Iraq, through the Baghdad government. Nobody knows how Tehran will spend the financial gains from sanctions being lifted. But what is certain is that budgetary problems will no longer be a hypothetical obstacle to the Islamic Republic’s extending its long arm even further into the region.

Could the deal have been better? Its supporters have used two slogans: ‘this is the best possible deal’, and ‘this deal now or war later’. Both are false alternatives, giving the impression that they were created for rhetorical purposes. Washington’s self-imposed deadlines left it negotiating against itself. It may very well have been wiser to wait until Iran felt the pressure of sanctions even more. At times, the United States may have given Tehran the impression that it needed a deal even more than the Iranians did. The second argument is equally spurious: few serious analysts or politicians would support immediate military action against Iran.

But the time for regrets has passed. Rejecting the deal now, with a view to agreeing a better one later, would be even riskier than accepting it – perhaps considerably more so. Thus we should make it work. This will require careful and constant monitoring: let us beware of ‘Iran fatigue’. The E3/EU+3 should supplement the massive-retaliation snapback provisions with informal understandings among the group’s members on how to respond to minor violations: a graduated response is needed. A key aspect will be the way the IAEA will judge whether or not the PMD question is settled. Here, Tehran should not be let off the hook. Finally, the E3/EU+3, or at least its four Western members, should regularly – perhaps annually – make a solemn commitment that they will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear explosive device and are ready to use any means to that effect.

What happens next is not only about Iran, but about the very future of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Any precedent the Iranian crisis creates will be fully exploited by the next ‘Nth country’. At the end of the day, the Vienna deal is an experiment in strategic risk-taking. We will only know in a few years whether this was a reasonable bet.

This commentary will appear in the October–November 2015 issue of Survival.

Bruno Tertrais is a Senior Research Fellow at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, and a Contributing Editor to Survival.

Matthew Harries: Morons, Losers and Leaders

I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises.

- Neil Kinnock, 1 October 1985.


‘We cannot waste this defeat’, said Harriet Harman, interim Labour leader, after her party’s bitter loss in Britain’s May 2015 general election. ‘We will dare to look over the precipice at what happened.’

Looking over the precipice, Labour saw the smouldering wreckage of an election campaign. The post-mortem has been traumatic, not least because, as late as election night on 7 May, pollsters and analysts still believed that the party could lead the next government. And it was not obvious whether Labour lost because it was too left-wing, or not left-wing enough. It had been beaten both from the left, in Scotland, by the Scottish National Party (SNP), and from the right, in England, by the Conservatives and the UK Independence Party (UKIP). It was not unreasonable to think that a decisive move in either direction would be the way to avoid being outflanked again – although one post-election review pointed clearly rightwards, identifying a widespread perception that Labour was not capable of fiscal responsibility.

On 8 May, within hours of defeat, party leader Ed Miliband resigned, Harman took interim control, and the process of finding a new leader began. Labour’s electoral procedures required candidates to gain the backing of 35 members of parliament in order to appear on the ballot, and in the six weeks after the election, three candidates crossed the threshold: Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow health secretary; Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary; and Liz Kendall, shadow minister for care and the elderly. The deadline for nominations was noon on 15 June; that morning, a fourth candidate, Jeremy Corbyn, was ten names short. Over the next few hours, signatures gradually trickled in – but not from Corbyn’s supporters. Instead, a series of Labour MPs nominated Corbyn on the grounds that his participation – as, by a comfortable margin, the most left-wing candidate on offer – would broaden the debate, though they did not want him actually to win the contest. Corbyn reached the required threshold with minutes to spare.

To nominate a candidate for election whom you would rather not see winning might be considered eccentric, but in a closed system such as Labour’s, it makes some democratic sense. Nor is it without precedent: in 2010, the left-wing candidate Diane Abbott reached the ballot with the help of David Miliband, who had encouraged some of his parliamentary supporters to nominate her. Moreover, at the time of his nomination Corbyn seemed unthreatening, personally and politically. His manner is mild, and his politics are so far to the left of what was then considered the Labour mainstream that the nomination seemed unlikely to have any practical consequences. An advocate of unilateral nuclear disarmament, NATO withdrawal and renationalisation of the railways, who had served on the Labour backbenches since 1983, was hardly leadership material.

That judgement has now proven to be spectacularly wrong. The candidate nominated to widen the debate ended up winning it. Three candidates of the party establishment failed to convince. And after an election campaign that appeared to have scared off centrist voters, Labour is poised to move further to the left.

Although shocking, Corbyn’s victory was accurately predicted – unlike the result of May’s general election – by two YouGov polls. When the first, in mid-July, showed Corbyn unexpectedly ahead, John McTernan, who had served as director of political operations for former prime minister Tony Blair, was asked on BBC Newsnight to reflect on the state of the race. ‘The moronic MPs who nominated Jeremy Corbyn need their heads felt’, said McTernan. ‘They should be ashamed of themselves … They are morons.’ The next day, a BBC radio presenter introduced former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett – one of Labour’s most distinguished serving MPs – by quoting McTernan’s ‘morons’ jibe. ‘I’m one of them’, Beckett cheerfully admitted. ‘I have to say at no point, I am afraid, did I intend – although he is a very nice person – to vote for Jeremy myself, or to advise anybody else to do so.’


While Jeremy Corbyn was rising in the polls, so too, on the other side of the Atlantic, was Donald Trump. One week before the first Republican presidential debate, to be held on 6 August, a national poll showed Trump in the lead, though just barely; ten days after the debate, another poll gave him a 13-percentage-point lead over the nearest challenger.

The two campaigns invited comparison; two populists, derided by political establishments, mounting insurgencies to the dismay of party grandees. But to be credible, the comparison could only be structural, not personal. Corbyn is a socialist and of relatively modest means; his website greets visitors with a vivid red background, against which is a traced outline of Corbyn with beard and newspaper-boy cap. Trump is a billionaire right-wing populist; the livery of his personal Boeing 757 carries his surname in large gold letters. Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens argued that what instead they shared was the ‘business of politics as protest’, a promise to the disaffected that they could ‘stop the world and get off’.

The comparison did greater injustice to Corbyn. Trump was offering populism in its least pleasant sense: a willingness to appeal to public sentiment that other politicians would leave untouched on grounds of decency. On the topic of immigration, for example, Trump alleged, repeatedly, that Mexico was ‘forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists.’ Nor was there a fair comparison to be made in terms of manner. Corbyn is softly spoken, and during the leadership campaign remained polite towards his opponents – although admittedly the same could not always be said for Corbyn’s supporters. The list of people whom Trump has over the years called a ‘loser’ – his favourite insult – includes Senator John McCain, former SNP leader Alex Salmond, conservative columnists Charles Krauthammer and George Will, former Trump campaign manager Roger Stone and, finally, all critics of his own hair.

The crucial, structural comparison, however, concerned the ways in which the priorities of a political party’s representatives and operatives tend to differ from those of its supporters. What worried Corbyn and Trump’s respective party elites was the apparent lack of interest they and their supporters showed towards two crucial concepts: electability and party unity. Alastair Campbell, Blair’s former director of communications, for example, called for consolidation around an ‘ABC’ (anyone but Corbyn) candidate; asserted ‘with absolute certainty’ that a Corbyn-led Labour Party would not win the next general election; and said that a Corbyn victory would demonstrate that Labour had ‘decided to open up an even bigger gulf’ in the party than the one that had become apparent on election day.

For many of Corbyn’s supporters, however, appeals like these – former prime minister Gordon Brown made much the same argument, though without specific reference to Corbyn – were coded demands for a right-wing candidate, and one drawn from a familiar pool of personnel lacking what they saw as Corbyn’s refreshing idiosyncrasy. As one Labour activist wrote:

The arrogance with which MPs tell us that we’re wrong, that we’re too cowardly to make ‘tough choices’ and vote for their preferred candidate, perfectly explains why the membership is not flocking to their anointed one…Of course they will deliver us from our childish and selfish ideas and lead us to where we deserve to be led. Only they know what being ‘electable’ is like.

As the leadership race progressed, arguments against Corbyn’s candidacy resting on the thesis that his election would be practically unwise seemed only to increase the intensity of his support. When Tony Blair intervened to make such an argument in two op-eds, Corbyn’s opponents greeted his judgement as being both astute and profoundly unhelpful. The reason was simple: for many Labour supporters, Jeremy Corbyn has appeared attractive largely because of what, or who, he is not.


Jeremy Corbyn is not Tony Blair. One Labour MP who nominated Corbyn praised him as a change from the ‘stale, out-dated Blairite 1990s’. The head of Britain’s fifth-biggest trade union declared that ‘The grip of the Blairites … must now be loosened once and for all. There is a virus within the Labour Party, and Jeremy Corbyn is the antidote.’

For anyone unfamiliar with Labour’s internal divisions, this might come as something of a surprise. Tony Blair, after all, won three general elections: in 1997, 2001 and 2005. He remains the only Labour leader to have won a general election since Harold Wilson’s victory in October 1974. But to be called Blairite today is rarely intended as a compliment.

One version of Blairism, and perhaps the simplest, can be found in the record of Labour’s time in government with Blair as prime minister. Labour was elected in 1997 after an 18-year period of Conservative government, towards the end of which the Conservatives had suffered furious division over Britain’s relationship with Europe, and a series of high-profile scandals that obliged ministers to resign. Tony Blair, at 43, was the youngest prime minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812, and was welcomed into office by genuinely delighted crowds lining the route to Downing Street. The theme song of Labour’s election campaign had been ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, by D:Ream.

A drastically condensed narrative of what happened next goes something like this: Labour’s wave of expectations lasted six months, until a party-funding scandal forced Blair – awkwardly defending himself as a ‘pretty straight sort of guy’ – to confront the kind of ‘sleaze’ that had defined his Conservative predecessors. As the hopefulness of the election campaign met the messy reality of government, Labour enacted a series of moderate social-democratic reforms, including the introduction of a national minimum wage, spending on health, education and overseas aid, and repeal of an infamous anti-gay section of the Local Government Act. At the same time, Blair’s government consciously avoided traditional indicators of socialist government, such as significant increases in the top bracket of income tax, and made a high-profile public accommodation with business and finance: ‘We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich’, Peter Mandelson famously said. The discomfort of Labour’s left wing with this rightward turn was exacerbated by the policies of relatively hardline home secretaries, including security laws criticised for restricting civil liberties. Until 2003, however, electoral success was, broadly speaking, enough to keep open rebellion to a minimum.

Then came the invasion of Iraq. Foreign secretary Robin Cook resigned from the government in protest. In his resignation statement – an insistent attack on the case for war and perhaps the most rhetorically brilliant speech to Parliament in a generation – Cook called Blair the most successful leader of the Labour Party in his lifetime, warning: ‘I have no sympathy with, and I will give no comfort to, those who want to use this crisis to displace him.’ Blair remained leader, and despite the war’s political cost, led Labour to victory again in 2005. But the invasion was the beginning of the end. Before the 2005 election, under pressure from supporters of Gordon Brown – who had long ago reached an understanding with Blair that he would be allowed one day to take Blair’s place – Blair announced that, if re-elected, he would only serve one more term as prime minister. He did not make it that long. Resigning in May 2007, he conceded that the Iraq War had been ‘bitterly controversial’; of the expectations placed on his time in government, he asked that his supporters accept ‘one thing: hand on heart, I did what I thought was right’.

This is all by way of saying that ‘Blairism’ is in one sense, justly or otherwise, shorthand for the disappointment of progressive hope, symbolised by the invasion of Iraq. Opposition to that invasion was a key rallying point for the Corbyn campaign. On 21 August, Corbyn announced that as leader he would make a formal apology on behalf of the Labour Party: ‘to the British people for taking them into the Iraq War on the basis of deception, and to the Iraqi people for the suffering we have helped cause’. The rejection of this form of Blairism is a straightforward argument to move the Labour Party to the political left – albeit, in Corbyn’s case, rather dramatically so.

There is another type of ‘Blairism’, however, to which Corbyn’s campaign is also a challenge, but which is more complicated than simple policy positioning. This second Blairism is a more than 20-year project, driven not solely by Blair but by a series of senior Labour figures, to reshape the party, and to prioritise unity and electability over ideological purity. (It is worth noting that this movement included Gordon Brown; here, the Blairite/Brownite split that paralysed Labour in office is of less significance.)

A crucial victory in this reforming project was won by Neil Kinnock, with the expulsion of the hard-left entryist group Militant Tendency from the party in 1985. In a speech to the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth that year, Kinnock condemned Militant’s record at the helm of Liverpool city council, which had ended, as Kinnock put it, in the ‘grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers’.

The premise of Kinnock’s attack, and the expulsion of Militant, was that Labour could afford neither to allow hardline internal factions to define the meaning of socialism for the public at large, nor to pursue unfettered socialist ambition at the expense of electoral success. Kinnock offered a quotation from Aneurin Bevan, a fellow Welsh Labour politician who had served in the post-war government of Clement Attlee: ‘socialism does not have to be complete to be convincing’.

Driven by the experience of four successive general-election defeats, a generation of Labour politicians, led finally by Blair, drew an even stronger conclusion than Bevan: designing socialism to be complete would convince the British public never to vote Labour. Ten years after Kinnock’s speech in Bournemouth, the battle to reform the party was finally won when Blair won a vote to reform Clause IV of the Labour Party constitution, which had hitherto committed the party to pursuing ‘the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange’. The new version made reference to the ‘enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition’, to be combined with the ‘forces of partnership and co-operation’.

It is in this context too, then, that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign should be understood. Corbyn, an advocate of the renationalisation of parts of British industry and infrastructure, has suggested that Clause IV might be reformed. But the clause itself is not the crux of the issue. Instead, the question is whether widespread dissatisfaction with the first type of Blairism will bring down the achievements of the second. To put it another way, if Labour is to move to the political left of Blair, the question is whether it can do so without becoming once again a party that sees unelectability as proof of virtuous ideology, and which treats party unity with suspicion.

Labour now faces a truly fundamental challenge. With Corbyn as leader, the party elites – ‘morons’ or otherwise – will have to find a way to win on a platform generally considered unelectable, with a party base inclined to regard the goal of electability as cover for a right-wing agenda. Several members of the shadow cabinet have already concluded that this is an impossible task.

At the end of August, US Senator Lindsey Graham said ‘If Donald Trump is the nominee, that’s the end of the Republican Party’. Corbyn, the British political system and the Labour Party’s circumstances are greatly different. But if this challenge is not met, Labour will lose the 2020 election, and will be out of power for close to a generation. That is more than enough time for a political party to die.

A version of this article will appear in the October–November 2015 issue of Survival.

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS. 

Mark Fitzpatrick: Iran – A Good Deal

The more I study the Iran nuclear deal, the more deeply I appreciate its worth. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed in Vienna on 14 July is better than all three of its antecedents. It goes beyond the political accord struck in Lausanne on 2 April, walking back from none of the parameters of that accord as described by the United States. Among other virtues, the verification procedures of the JCPOA are tighter than the safeguards provided for in the Additional Protocol. The constraints and obligations Iran accepts under the deal also go beyond the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The deal can be characterised as Lausanne-plus, Additional Protocol-plus and NPT-plus.

Opponents of the agreement typically compare it to idealised concepts of a better deal, one that would restrain Iran’s nuclear programme more tightly, and, for good measure, compel better behaviour in other policy fields. Better provisions can be imagined, of course, including those that were tabled and eventually traded away in order to persuade Iran to accept the very sharp limits and intrusive verification measures in the final document. ‘Give and take’ is the essence of negotiations. Along the way, Iran gave up many of its own demands. According to one Iranian critic, 19 of the redlines defined by Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei were crossed. I am still amazed that Iran agreed to let go of 98% of its enriched uranium stockpile, to keep this stockpile at less than 300kg for 15 years, to only use clunky first-generation centrifuges for ten years and to entirely forego producing weapons-grade plutonium for 15 or more years.

For critics now to demand a return to the opening-gambit US provisions and to impose other conditions is to engage in fantasy. There has long ceased to be any possibility that Iran would give up its enrichment programme altogether. Criticising the JCPOA because it failed to achieve this impossible goal is equivalent to arguing against any diplomatic outcome.

For reasons compellingly explained by Graham Allison, among others, there is no better deal now to be had because killing this deal would deprive US negotiators of bargaining power. Similarly, Robert Gates, who is not particularly fond of the JCPOA, recognises that once it was agreed by eight parties after two years of negotiations, it is now the only deal possible. If the US Congress blocks it, Iran will never trust another US negotiating team to be able to deliver on agreed terms. Nor will other countries meekly accept a return to imposing tough sanctions at America’s beck and call if Washington undermines the deal that European allies worked so hard to reach.

The valid comparison is between the JCPOA and the status of Iran’s nuclear programme that prevailed two years ago. This is the status quo ante that is likely to ‘snap back’ if the deal is torpedoed. In early autumn 2013, Iran had nearly 20,000 centrifuges in place, having learned to install them at a pace of more than 700 per month. One thousand second-generation models that were reportedly three times more effective appeared to be ready for operation and more of them were being prepared for installation. Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) was growing at an average rate of 150kg per month, and it had almost enough 20%-enriched uranium hexafluoride for a weapon, if further enriched. The deeply buried enrichment facility at Fordow was being readied to produce more 20% product. Meanwhile, the Arak reactor was nearing completion, perhaps soon able to produce one or two bombs-worth of weapons-grade plutonium per year. Iran was on the brink of being a nuclear-armed state.

Before the interim deal instituted daily inspections, which will fall away if the JCPOA is rejected, verification commitments were limited to ordinary safeguards. Inspections at declared sites took place about once a week at most, and the monitoring equipment was far from state of the art. There was no Additional Protocol providing rights of access to undeclared facilities, and Iran refused to accept provisions requiring declaration of new facilities until they were close to being operational.

The interim agreement that was struck in November 2013 and had been extended several times by early July 2015 brought Iran back from the brink. In the race between sanctions and centrifuges, sanctions finally got the upper hand. But Iran’s commitments under that temporary arrangement would fall away if the JCPOA were killed. Iran would be free to resume where it left off two years ago. Only this time the US would have very few partners willing to impose the tough sanctions that compelled the serious negotiations of the past two years. Not a single foreign nation besides Israel advocates starting over to try to negotiate a better deal. They know it would be daft.

NPT plus

The Iran deal is better than the NPT in several ways. In addition to committing to never produce nuclear weapons, Iran also committed to never engage in four kinds of development work related to nuclear weapons. These include neutron initiator development and multi-point explosive detonation, activities that the NPT does not forbid. This is also one of the ways in which the JCPOA goes beyond the Lausanne accord. The prohibited weaponisation development work also appears to be covered by the verification procedures of the JCPOA. This is a major breakthrough for the nuclear non-proliferation regime, which to date has never explicitly granted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the right to verify nuclear weaponisation work that does not involve nuclear materials.

The JCPOA is also better than the NPT in that it has no withdrawal clause. Most of the limits on civilian nuclear activities end after a period of time, but the obligations are indefinite, as are the key verification measures of the Additional Protocol and Iran’s commitment to exporting all spent fuel, making it unavailable for plutonium-based weapons. Among the ways the deal improves on the Additional Protocol is that maximum time periods are set for access to suspicious sites, 24 days in the worst case. The normal turnaround period for Iran to respond to an inspection request will be 24 hours. Adding an ultimate limit of 24 days is an improvement to the Additional Protocol, which provides for no such limit on delays. The US Department of Energy National Laboratories recently proved that even very limited quantities of uranium could not be cleaned up in this time. Experimental work using only non-nuclear components could probably be hidden, even in one day. But without the JCPOA, the IAEA would have no agreed right to even look for non-nuclear weaponisation work.

The limits on civilian nuclear capacity also have no equivalent in the NPT. Their expiration after 15 years, in the case of enrichment and heavy-water reactors, will not mean Iran is able suddenly and without detection to rush to build nuclear weapons. The IAEA will monitor production of key centrifuge parts for 20 years. All uranium oxide will be tracked for 25 years. Meanwhile, the major powers that were involved in the talks will have additional monitoring functions of their own, to review and approve various nuclear research and development plans and to review procurement of nuclear-related material and equipment. The JCPOA thus provides an extra means for detecting any suspicious build-up in Iran’s nuclear capabilities. The monitoring through the Joint Commission established by the JCPOA is in addition to the national technical means that states continue to employ to gather intelligence on Iran.

Perfect accuracy of intelligence cannot be guaranteed, of course, but Iran would have to assume that any significant cheating on its part would very likely be quickly observed. If so detected, the US and its allies will not give up any of the options they now possess to compel compliance. In fact, such options will be more robust in the latter years of the Iran deal because the technology for military options such as bunker-busting bombs will likely improve, as will the intelligence picture on Iran’s activities.

So while one can legitimately criticise the JCPOA for allowing Iran unlimited expansion of a civilian nuclear programme in 15 years’ time, this hardly paves the way for nuclear weapons, as some of the more bombastic critics charge. Rather, it buys 15 or more years of certified non-nuclear status – and the reassurance of not having to resort to war to stop the programme. Iran will have strong incentives to honour the deal during this time. Faithful implementation should give the IAEA the means to be able to draw the broader conclusion under the Additional Protocol that all nuclear material in Iran is exclusively for peaceful purposes with no indication of undeclared nuclear activities. If Iran could earn what in effect is the IAEA certificate of approval, there would be no sustainable reason not to allow the same rights as enjoyed by other IAEA members such as Germany and Japan, both of which have enrichment programmes.

Enemy of the good

I have written elsewhere about problematic aspects of the agreement. In addition to concerns about the sunset clause, there are unresolved questions about nuclear activity of a possible military dimension (PMD). The agreement obliges Iran to answer these questions but not necessarily to resolve the concerns. If the answers are unsatisfactory, the major partners will face a political decision in early 2016 about whether to lift sanctions anyway. If Iran fulfils its stated obligations under the JCPOA to remove centrifuges, LEU and the core of the Arak reactor but leaves the PMD issues hanging, I anticipate that the powers will swallow hard and decide that forestalling future weaponisation is more important than knowing what happened in the past.

Iran will have an ongoing incentive, however, to ensure that the file is closed on past allegations, because if in the latter years of the JCPOA the IAEA still had lingering doubts about weaponisation work, it would be difficult to draw the broader conclusion of exclusively peaceful uses. And if the IAEA were not able within 15 years to draw the broader conclusion, then many countries would not feel comfortable allowing Iran at that point to proceed with an unlimited enrichment programme. The nuclear crisis would resume. But the world would not be any worse off than would be the case if the US Congress were to torpedo the JCPOA this year, thereby lifting all constraints immediately.

Iran’s adversaries raise other reasons they dislike the deal, including the suggestion that it might abet regional adventurism. That is an open question; Iran’s behaviour might get worse, especially in the near term, but the deal also offers prospects for it getting better. Some criticise the lifting of the UN Security Council ban on missile development after eight years. This ban was adopted in the first place only to pressure Iran to enter negotiations. In any case, Iran will remain unable legally to import missile-related parts and technology because the voluntary constraints imposed by the Missile Technology Control Regime will remain in place for most exporting countries.

Iran’s dismal human-rights record is another issue offered as a reason to oppose the nuclear deal, although not by Iranian human-rights activists themselves, most of whom support the JCPOA. I remain angry that Iran continues to imprison Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and other US citizens on trumped up charges. I realise, though, that the hardliners who detained him are outside President Hassan Rouhani’s control and would like nothing better than if the US conditioned acceptance of the JCPOA on Rezaian’s release, thereby giving them a veto over the deal.

The JCPOA is a potential game changer in many ways, opening a path to better relations with Iran that has been closed for more than 35 years. For now, however, let it be judged on the merits of what the negotiations set out to achieve. On the issue of single-most importance to the national security of concerned states, the positive contribution of the JCPOA is dispositive. It makes it demonstrably less likely Iran will become nuclear-armed now and in the future.

This commentary will appear in the October–November 2015 issue of Survival.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

William Choong: Pacifism and the problems of history

Recently, I was interviewed by a Japanese broadcast journalist on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to push through legislation that would enable Japan to participate in collective self-defence with its allies.

The journalist was taken aback when I said that the move was not controversial, given that Japan has already embarked on a process of gradual normalisation of its military for decades. In Japan, such views would be attacked by the pacifist left, the journalist said.

Indeed, the recent protests outside the National Diet only underscore the strength of opposition to the new security bills.

The rationale for the protesters’ opposition sounds compelling – given that the Japanese people have suffered from the destruction of an atomic bomb, Japan must maintain its pacifist tradition as a model for the world.

The call for the abandonment of the bills, however, represents a dogged reluctance to recognise the change in Japan’s security environment, which has deteriorated markedly with North Korea’s nuclear programme and China’s increasingly assertive behaviour in the East China Sea and South China Sea. 

To begin with, pacifism in Japan was short-lived. Speaking in 1946, Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida said Japan should renounce war as an exercise of the right to self-defence and the right to belligerency. In those formative post-war years, Yoshida even said that Japan should entrust Japan’s security to the United Nations, which had been established only a year earlier.

But it took less than a decade for Japanese policymakers to realise that denying Japan’s right to self-defence and entrusting its security to the UN was not advisable. In the 1950s, corrections to the pacifist stance stressed that Japan’s renunciation of the right to war did not imply the abandonment of the right to self-defence. This formed the basis for the eventual adoption of the Yoshida Doctrine, whereby Japan chose a position of alignment with the United States and sought a policy of limited rearmament. Essentially, this was recessed pacifism – Japan managed to maintain a smaller military because the American juggernaut guaranteed its security.

In other words, Japan rejected full-fledged pacifism at an early stage. It has proceeded on a path of gradual normalisation of its military ever since.

In 1954, Yoshida used the ambiguities of ‘modern warfare’ to establish the Japan Self-Defence Forces (JSDF) without revising the constitution. In 1992, lawmakers passed the International Peacekeeping Cooperation Law, overriding a 1954 law that prevented the overseas deployment of JSDF troops. In 1997, revised guidelines for the US–Japan alliance enabled Japan to provide logistical and other non-combat support to the US military in ‘areas surrounding Japan’ – a development that led to howls of protest in Beijing, given the implications for China’s claim to Taiwan.

Given the long arc of Japan’s normalisation as a military power, the false narrative of pacifism has led to all kinds of linguistic contortions and illogical positions.

As Richard Samuels writes in Securing Japan, many hairs have been split over whether ‘armed force’ (buryoku) is different from ‘war potential’ (senryoku). At first, jet fighters were excluded; later, they were accepted, but not with aerial refuelling capabilities. Then aerial refuelling was deemed permissible. Japan initially insisted that it could not maintain aircraft carriers. Now it has acquired helicopter carriers that can be retrofitted to operate F-35 stealth fighters.

The same lack of logic applies to Japan’s nuclear-weapons policy. For years, Japan maintained its ‘Three Nos’ policy towards nuclear weapons – that it shall not produce, possess or introduce nuclear arms.

This satisfies the pacifists, but the fact is that the policy is predicated on American extended deterrence – America’s promise to retaliate against a country which uses nuclear weapons on Japan. Former prime minister Eisaku Sato won the Nobel Peace Prize for declaring Japan’s non-nuclear principles in 1967. Two years later, however, he declared to the US ambassador to Japan that the principles were ‘nonsense’. It was reported in 2009 that the US and Japan had arrived at a secret pact in 1981 which allowed nuclear-armed US Navy ships to enter Japan.

In sum, Japan never really pursued pacifism in its purest form, even though the Article 9 clauses of renouncing ‘war as a sovereign right’ and ‘the threat or use of force’ in settling disputes sound pacifist enough. In fact, it can be argued that protestors who challenge the historic security bills protest too little, not too much. If they mourn the ‘loss’ of pacifism inherent in the new bills, they need to go the whole hog and ask for the rollback of all the capabilities that the JSDF has added since 1954 – the same capabilities that make Japan and the region secure and safe today.

On another front, the passing of the new security bills would not derail Japan’s attempt at ‘proactive pacifism’ – a policy of using a stronger military to enable Japan to contribute to regional and global stability.

Even with a stronger military, Japan can still continue to practise Article 9-style principles and call for the avoidance of the threat or use of force in settling disputes. Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2014, Mr Abe stressed adherence to the rule of law in settling territorial disputes and called for restraint in the use of force.

Indeed, Japan has and can continue to play a bigger role in Asia-Pacific affairs. While it has not joined China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, it has rolled out a US$110 billion plan for infrastructure development in the region. It has helped countries like Vietnam and the Philippines develop their maritime security capabilities and provided financial assistance and technology to littoral states seeking to manage security in the Malacca Strait.

But only a Japan that takes a correct approach to history would enable the country to go further in its proactive pacifism. Mr Abe has been criticised for his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine and his controversial approach to addressing Japan’s wartime record.

On 15 August – the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in 1945 – he stayed true to form. While he upheld previous apologies by previous administrations, he did not issue a fresh apology. He also added that future generations of Japanese should not be ‘predestined to apologise’.

This does not bode well for Japan’s aspirations to become a normal country that plays a bigger role in Asia. Addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue this year, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that most Southeast Asian countries want Japan to play a more active role in the region. But he noted that the controversy over history hinders such an aspiration.

Mr Abe needs to take the right approach to history by making repeated apologies for Japan’s wartime atrocities. A historic gesture would help. On 12 August, former premier Yukio Hatoyama knelt down in front of a monument in Seoul for victims of Japan’s colonisation during the Second World War and apologised for his country’s wartime atrocities. This went down well in South Korea.

In a 1992 speech, Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew said that allowing the JSDF to go abroad was akin to ‘giving a chocolate liqueur to an alcoholic’. Japan, he said, was unable to ‘square its accounts over the last war’. Unless Mr Abe squares the accounts, Japan will remain a reforming alcoholic who has not jumped back on the wagon.

William Choong is the Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security at the IISS.

Erik Jones: The European political centre cannot hold (but the EU can)

Europe’s politicians have cleared the last hurdle in accepting Greece’s third financial bailout, but the voting was uncomfortable for everyone. The left-wing populist government in Greece relied on representatives from the more traditional centre-left and centre-right to cover for defections from the ruling coalition; the German government used Social Democrats within the ruling coalition to cover for defections from the chancellor’s own Christian Democrats; and the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)/Labour Party (PvdA) government of the Netherlands got extra support from the left-liberal Democrats 66 (D66) party to add to its slender one-seat majority.

As a result of these different movements toward the political centre – and similar developments in other countries – the Greek government will get the money it needs to keep up with its debt payments and shore up its banks. That is a good thing for anyone who wants to see Greece have a reasonable chance at recovering from this ongoing crisis. Unfortunately, that centre cannot hold. A populist party like Syriza cannot govern easily with the old pillars of the Greek political establishment; Germany’s grand coalition is a historical anomaly; and the result of eight years of close cooperation between the VVD, PvdA and D66 was bad for all. So the question is whether Europe’s political centre will splinter before the Greek situation becomes sustainable.

It is easy to explain why Europe’s political centre cannot hold indefinitely. The people who identify with the political centre learned through experience that European voters have lost their patience with long-running broad-church movements. The once-hegemonic Christian democratic parties that dominated political life in Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands are faint whispers of their former selves. The social democrats have not fared much better. This is obviously true in those countries like Sweden where the social democrats were as hegemonic as the Christian democrats were elsewhere (even if they may have proved to be more durable). But it is also true where there has been more consistent right–left alternation. Those social democratic parties that moved to the centre to try and consolidate their hold over the electorate, like Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) or Tony Blair’s Labour Party, inevitably found themselves challenged on the Left. Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party is experiencing much the same, only faster.

These lessons have had a strong impact on behaviour among both politicians and voters. As a consequence, centrist politicians do not enjoy working together. They may like each other personally and they may agree on many issues, but they know that the key to getting re-elected is to convince voters to make a choice. For its part, the electorate expects these choices to be honoured. As a result, voters tend to regard centrist grand coalitions as a form of betrayal. Rather than rewarding politicians for setting aside their differences, they put a curse on all participating political parties when they return to the polls. Many a populist or anti-elite group has benefited from this process. Austria’s Freedom Party is one example; the French National Front is another; the Dutch List Pim Fortuyn is a third. These groups are similar only in terms of opportunity and not ideology. They arose at least in part because voters preferred choice over the alternative.

This necessity for choice is what puts Europe’s political centre on a short clock. You can see this in the manoeuvring around the snap elections planned in Greece, where the same opposition groups that joined Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in pushing through the legislative preconditions for the third bailout are likely to withhold their support from (or at the very least complicate the bargaining around) any future Syriza-led coalition. It is also evident in the Netherlands, in the sharp attacks levied by D66 leader Alexander Pechtold on VVD Prime Minister Mark Rutte for having promised the voters during the last elections never to give more money to Greece. And it shows up in the nervous counting of Christian Democratic Union (CDU)/Christian Social Union (CSU) defectors from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership, as pundits look ahead to Germany’s 2017 parliamentary elections. The fact that the increase over July was less than many observers expected offers only cold comfort: sooner rather than later, Merkel’s SPD coalition partners will have to begin differentiating themselves from their Christian Democratic coalition partners, and this will force Chancellor Merkel to shore up her position on the right. Against this backdrop, it is hard to see how Europe’s political centre can hold together throughout the three-year life-span of the third Greek bailout agreement. Indeed, it may start fracturing in a matter of weeks or months.

The fact that Europe’s political centre cannot hold is no reason for Europeans to give up hope. On the contrary, it is a strong argument for the importance of European institutions: the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the European Stability Mechanism were created precisely to sustain policy action across changes in member state governments. Politicians should offer voters a choice and the outcomes of those choices should be respected. But that is not the same as saying that every European policy should be held hostage to every change in member-state government, and neither should it mean that historic agreements like those reached over the past several weeks should be held hostage to the fates of an unending succession of national electoral contests.

The European Union exists because there are problems bigger than any member-state government can address on its own. The EU also exists because there are issues that can only be tackled over time periods longer than the gaps between European parliamentary elections. Europe’s political centre cannot hold, but we have always known that. European integration is the answer.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. You can follow him on Twitter at: @Erik_Jones_SAIS.

Dana H. Allin: Egon Bahr and the legacy of Ostpolitik

Egon Bahr, the intellectual father, together with his political partner Willy Brandt, of West Germany’s Ostpolitik, has died at the age of 93. I knew him slightly; he served on the advisory council of the Aspen Institute, Berlin, where I was Deputy Director until 1997. I also interviewed him for my first book, Cold War Illusions. Brandt’s and Bahr’s early-1970s policy of détente with the Soviet bloc aroused considerable anxiety in the Nixon administration, especially for Henry Kissinger, who feared it could lead to progressive encroachment of Soviet power as well as reviving German nationalism. Kissinger was particularly nervous about Bahr’s frank explanation that one motive of Ostpolitik was doubt about the reliability of the American nuclear guarantee. Nixon and Kissinger were unable to oppose Ostpolitik directly, however, since it was so clearly in tune with their own détente policies.

When I interviewed Bahr 21 years ago in Bonn, he was utterly unapologetic about the attitudes that concerned Kissinger. The Social Democrat Brandt, exiled to Norway in World War II and secure in his anti-Nazi credentials, could not be ‘blackmailed’ because of the German past, Bahr told me. ‘This Chancellor considered himself to have been liberated rather than defeated at the end of the war.’ He likewise confirmed that he made no secret, in his conversations with Kissinger, that Ostpolitik was driven by nuclear necessity. ‘With Soviet strategic missiles, America was now vulnerable for the first time in its history,’ is how he put it in our interview. ‘There [was] now a strategic balance and that meant that America would think twice before risking its own existence. Would America answer with nuclear missiles if the Russians took Hamburg? The answer [was] no. So détente was our only option.’

Again, it was not so different from what Kissinger himself was saying at the time, but attitudes like Bahr’s drove the first generation of American neoconservatives crazy; their perceptions of European unreliability and progressive ‘Finlandisation’ were significant sources of their pessimistic assessments of the East–West balance of power.

Cold War Illusions argued, on the contrary, that sources of European and overall Western strength were underrated, and, as a corollary, that détente strategies such as Bahr designed helped prepare the ground for a peaceful end to the Cold War.

Bahr, incidentally, was a contributor to Survival. His commentary in the April–May 2015 issue, addressing arguments about a possible new Cold War with Russia, warned that the lessons of Ostpolitik were now being forgotten. It was probably the last thing he published in English.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Mark Fitzpatrick: A dozen ways the Iran deal promotes global disarmament and non-proliferation

The Iran nuclear deal agreed on 14 July is helpful to disarmament and to non-proliferation in twelve ways.

1. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) shows the value of diplomacy. Three years ago, there was growing concern that Iran’s increasing nuclear capabilities would put it at the brink of quickly being able produce nuclear weapons. Some called Iran a ‘de facto’ weapons state. There was also real concern that military action would be initiated to forestall Iran getting too close to a bomb. Now, as a result of successful diplomacy, both an Iranian nuclear weapon and war to prevent it are off the table for the next 15 or more years if the deal holds.

2. The various tools of the non-proliferation regime worked as intended, demonstrating their utility. Inspections, resolutions, incentives and disincentives all played an important role, employed to good effect by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN Security Council and the E3/EU+3 (Britain, France and Germany, plus China, Russia and the United States) group that negotiated with Iran. The mechanics of international institutions can often be cumbersome and inefficient; in producing the JCPOA, multilateral diplomacy had one of its finest hours.

3. The outcome strengthened verification tools. With Iran now ready to implement and later to ratify the Additional Protocol, which is already in force in 126 countries, this instrument has become ever more the global safeguards norm. In Iran, the IAEA will be able to employ the most modern safeguards techniques, also making them the norm. In fact, verification under the JCPOA will go beyond the Additional Protocol, to allow for monitoring of centrifuge production and storage, the procurement chain, and all uranium ore concentrate. These ‘Additional Protocol-plus’ measures could become a useful precedent in other cases, including for moves toward disarmament. If nuclear-armed states ever are to relax their guard to allow the world to become nuclear weapons-free, deeply intrusive verification measures will be necessary to provide assurances that potential adversaries are not cheating. The Iran deal will show how the most intrusive verification measures ever negotiated work in practice.

4. The deal further strengthened the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by fortifying the pillar of peaceful nuclear use. It did so in an artful way, not explicitly recognising a right to uranium enrichment, but doing so implicitly. The NPT is similarly vague; it does not explicitly include enrichment as among the nuclear technologies to which states have an ‘inalienable right’, but a textual reading of the treaty implies that this is the case. Iran’s willingness in autumn 2013 not to demand an explicit right to enrichment was an early compromise that set negotiators on the path to success. Iran now has the right to decide on its own whether it really needs the industrial-scale enrichment capacity it is allowed after 15 years. Given Russia’s promise to provide enriched uranium fuel for the lifetime of all reactors it sells Iran, the rational economic answer will be that Iran does not need to fully implement this right.

5. Iran’s agreement to sharply reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) could set a useful example for how fissile-material stockpiles might be dealt with in a future Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). As was mentioned at the informal CD session, Iran’s LEU stockpile was produced under safeguards and inspectors have uncontested knowledge of its size. Dealing with hitherto undeclared larger stockpiles of weapons-fissile material would be far more challenging, of course. There is an important lesson in the Iran case though that countries can agree verifiably to reduce enriched-uranium holdings without loss to their security, sovereignty or self-respect. 

6. Prospects for an FMCT were also advanced by Iran’s commitment not to enrich uranium over 3.67% for 15 years, nor to acquire separated plutonium or neptunium for the same period. Iran’s stated intention not to reprocess spent fuel after the 15-year period suggests that this moratorium could be formalised through future negotiations. 

7. The Iran deal should also contribute to implementation of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Iran is one of the eight remaining countries whose ratification is necessary for CTBT entry into force. Until very recently, Iran has faced no pressure over the CTBT, since all of the efforts of countries of concern were on limiting and increasing transparency of its nuclear programme. In late June, Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, began publicly to call on Iran to ratify the treaty in order to demonstrate its non-nuclear bone fides. He believes Iran is now likely to be the first of the eight remaining hold-outs to come aboard. 

8. The JCPOA contributed to the goal of a zone in the Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The agreement showed how verification and enforcement provisions of such a zone might be structured. In addition, by removing for 15 years or more any prospect of Iran acquiring an ability to quickly produce nuclear weapons, the agreement made it marginally more possible for Israel to accept limits on its nuclear programme.

9. The deal reduced any incentive for other states in the region to seek sensitive nuclear technologies. In the absence of a deal that reversed Iran’s march toward de facto nuclear-weapons status, Saudi Arabia and possibly other states would have had a motivation to seek similar capabilities. Some Saudi luminaries have said that the kingdom should in any case now enjoy the same technologies that Iran is allowed to have, but there is little likelihood of this coming to pass in the foreseeable future. There is little basis for an indigenous enrichment programme and no country will legitimately provide this technology. All 48 members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group are enjoined from doing so by the NSG guidelines, which India has also pledged to follow. Pakistan has stated it will not help Saudi Arabia acquire nuclear weapons, and its refusal to join the intervention in Yemen shows that Islamabad and Rawalpindi are under no obligation to Riyadh. This leaves North Korea as the only state-actor option for enrichment technology. Pyongyang, too, should offer a pledge of no onward proliferation.

10. The JCPOA was stronger than the NPT. Going beyond its commitment under the NPT, Iran agreed not to engage in several kinds of activities that could contribute to the development of nuclear weapons, including computer models to simulate nuclear explosive devices and design of multi-point explosive detonation systems.

11. The negotiation process provided a rare point of nuclear-related consensus and common action among the major powers. Given the growing divergence between Russia and the West over so many other fields, including nuclear security, the cohesion of the E3/EU+3 was extraordinary. A similar shared sense of purpose among the major powers will be necessary for steps toward disarmament. It was also important that the powers negotiating with Iran were not just the five NPT-recognised nuclear-armed states. Germany’s role in the negotiations and that of the EU as an independent player in its own regard showed that nuclear-weapons status is not a requirement for inclusion in serious nuclear talks. The role of the EU and the other six powers and Iran will continue with added responsibilities via the Joint Commission that will be established to oversee the agreement.

12. Finally, the Iran nuclear deal is a game-changer in many regards. Among other things, it showed the willingness of states to overcome animosities. Throughout my professional career, which started the year of the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been the most disliked state for almost all of my countrymen and women. There is a lesson to be learned here for North Korea, which justifies its nuclear weapons programme on grounds of American ‘hostility’. To the extent that there is any such sense of hostility toward North Korea, it is far greater toward Iran. Yet the United States was willing to negotiate with Iran on an equal footing, showing respect for rights and sovereignty. If North Korea were willing to accept similar limits and transparency, it could enjoy similar benefits.

A rising tide lifts all boats. Diplomats everywhere dealing with multilateral nuclear diplomacy, many of whom have been toiling for years without much to show for it, should be invigorated by the success of the Iran nuclear talks.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Erik Jones: The EU Needs to Admit Mistakes

The European Union (EU) is good at writing rules; what it needs is to strengthen the capacity to suspend, ignore or replace rules that are obviously not working or inappropriate in a given situation. In other words, the EU needs to get better at recognising when following the rules is a mistake. This is not going to be a popular argument. Rules are supposed to be rules, after all. Nevertheless, it is vital. So long as policymakers lack perfect foresight, they will never be able to write rules that work in every situation. They will not be able to anticipate the conditions for every possible exception either. Hence they will always need some mechanism to recognise and respond to unexpected situations in a timely manner. In case of emergency, break glass. They will also need some way to hold policymakers accountable for any exercise in emergency discretion. Successful innovations will not always be rewarded but they will be accepted and used to improve the functioning of the organisation; abuse will be punished. That is – or at least should be – the measure of political union.

The EU already has the capacity to ignore the rules. We can all think of areas where the EU has made ‘exceptions’ either for specific countries (firms, etc.) or for limited periods of time. Since I write mostly about macroeconomic policy, I tend to focus on those cases, but they exist in every aspect of European integration. Consider, for example, the November 2003 decision by the Council of Economic and Finance Ministers (Ecofin Council) to set aside the deficit rules for France and Germany. That was not an isolated event; it was the culmination of a series of similar decisions. When Germany first started showing signs of persistent fiscal problems in February 2002, the Ecofin Council decided that it was unnecessary to start the formal procedures for monitoring German finances because it had assurances from the German government that any problem would be corrected in a timely manner.

The temptation is to regard those exceptions as errors – not just by definition, but also, and more importantly, in terms of procedure. When the European Court of Justice ruled on the Ecofin Council’s actions in July 2004, it found that the council had acted inappropriately. As one of the council’s lawyers explained to me many years ago, at least part of the problem was that they needed a super majority to take a decision and they didn’t have a procedure for handling situations where that majority was not present. So they improvised. Subsequent reforms to the stability and growth pact both prior to and during the recent economic crisis have tightened procedures to make things more automatic.

That is an understandable reflex. If rules are rules, then procedures should lead to their enforcement. Nevertheless, the inclination to tighten procedures is self-damaging because it makes the organisation more rigid and less adaptive. In this specific case, automatic rules lock in assumptions about what the future holds in general and how those future conditions will affect different member states. The architects of the new rules for fiscal policy coordination have no more perfect foresight than the policymakers who agreed to the old stability and growth pact or the excessive deficits procedure on which it is based.

A more appropriate response to the Ecofin Council’s November 2003 decision to suspend the fiscal rules for France and Germany would have been a far-reaching reconsideration of the rules themselves. Did the fiscal deficits run by France and Germany at the start of this century threaten the solvency of either country? Was there evidence that fiscal stimulus on the part of France and Germany could ease macroeconomic conditions and improve performance across the EU as a whole? Would the same logic of exception apply to smaller countries like Greece and Portugal that had (potentially) less liquid sovereign debt markets and stood to gain less from domestic fiscal stimulus?

These are questions of substance and not procedure. Any time EU policymakers decide to set aside or ignore the rules, this should be a clear sign of the need for substantive debate. And it is possible that a substantive conversation about macroeconomic policy coordination could have led the EU to be better prepared for the current crisis. The arguments for making an exception are stronger for France and Germany than for Greece and Portugal; a better lesson to draw from the Ecofin Council’s actions would be that large and small countries should fall under different fiscal rules. If Europe’s smaller countries had engaged in more strenuous fiscal consolidation while the larger countries focused more attention on improving macroeconomic performance, we could be in a very different situation today.

Of course, that kind of substantive debate was not possible – either before or during the recent crisis. European policymakers were willing to suspend the rules for fiscal policymaking, but they were unwilling to question why those rules turned out to be inappropriate to the situation they faced in the early 2000s. Instead they looked the other way until circumstances changed enough to restore their initial assumptions. The alternative of opening up a debate about the appropriateness of the rules was never contemplated (or, if it was contemplated, it was quickly rejected).

The fiscal story is a negative illustration; if we look at the evolution of monetary policy we can come up with a more positive account. At various points during the ongoing crisis, the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) has shown its capacity for innovation. Critics of the ECB complain that the institution reacted too slowly and yet such complaints must be seen in the context of the narrowly drawn and precisely defined rules within which the Governing Council has to operate. Each major innovation in ECB policy ran up against the limits of this rule-based framework. Many, like the promise to deploy ‘outright monetary transactions’ to prop up sovereign debt markets for member states in distress or the sustained expansion of the ECB’s balance sheet to promote ‘quantitative easing’, have sparked challenges that the ECB is operating beyond its mandate. So far the European Court of Justice has supported the ECB in its innovations and yet it remains a subject for intense debate.

The point is that even the ECB’s critics have to admit that it has done much to stabilise European economic performance. It could have done better; but it could also have been more absent. Unfortunately, the response to ECB innovation is more likely to be procedural rather than substantive. What the European Court of Justice argued is that it is not competent to enter into a substantive debate about monetary policy. That is fair for a court of justice – as guardian of the rules – but politicians and policymakers should not be bound by the same constraints. Unfortunately, the EU has little capacity to debate the substantive issues that arise as a result of recent monetary policy innovation. Instead, we should expect EU politicians and policymakers to focus on ways to tighten the procedures for decision-making within the Governing Council and to clarify the scope for ECB discretion in both defining and fulfilling its policy mandate. This conversation will not take place immediately, although hints of it have been circulating since 2010. It will become full blown only once Mario Draghi steps down as ECB president – since his leadership, more than anything else, explains why the ECB has been able to do so much. The result will be a more rigid and less adaptive organisation. The ECB’s capacity to innovate when faced with the next crisis will be diminished as a consequence.

The EU as it is currently organised cannot avoid that fate because it lacks the capacity to legitimate exceptions to the rules after the fact. In simple terms, the EU does not admit mistakes. It also lacks the capacity to draw lessons about why the rules failed to work appropriately in the first place. If you don’t admit mistakes, you cannot learn from them – indeed, that may be the objective. Ask any EU politician whether we might want to debate the ECB’s mandate in light of recent events, and they will tell you that is not possible politically to do so. That is the same response you will get to any suggestion that we might want to reconsider some of the fundamental assumptions underpinning fiscal policy coordination – like the assumption that large states and small states should abide by the same rules. The fact that virtually every introductory macroeconomic textbook makes a large state, small state distinction when discussing the role of fiscal policy in an economy that is open to the outside world is irrelevant.

The EU has a political union that is good at making rules but bad at admitting mistakes. They exist – and we can all name them – but they are viewed as aberrations from the ideal of a rules-based organisation. That is unfortunate. Europe’s political union should be better at admitting when it would be a mistake to follow the rules it makes, because admitting those mistakes is the first step in learning from them.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.

Matthew Harries: Hiroshima as Symbol

It is 70 years to the day since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, on 6 August 1945. Nagasaki was bombed three days later.

The horrible and awesome destructive power of nuclear weapons, combined with the effects of radiation, makes their use, by any compassionate human being, close to unthinkable. But ever since their invention and first use against Japan, observers have also believed that the existence of nuclear weapons changes the nature of war, making the potential consequences of an all-out conflict between nuclear-armed opponents almost limitless in extent, and potentially instant in effect. ‘Even the modern conception of war to which in my lifetime we have become accustomed’, wrote British prime minister Clement Attlee three weeks after Hiroshima, ‘is now completely out of date.’

The global nuclear order can be thought of as a product of these two instinctive reactions. If nuclear weapons are unthinkably horrible, they must be abolished; if nuclear weapons are awesomely powerful, the threat of their use can deter aggression. Global efforts to abolish nuclear weapons are almost as old as the weapons themselves, but the same weapons have routinely been claimed to be one foundation of international and regional stability.

Often, these attitudes reside in separate camps – made up of ‘disarmers’ and ‘deterrers’ – but by no means always. The signal achievements of international diplomacy relating to nuclear weapons have often rested on a pragmatic reconciliation of the two. The founding logic of the Cold War arms-control treaties which first limited, and then drastically cut, the superpowers’ nuclear stockpiles, was one rooted in deterrence just as much as in a desire for disarmament. One political bargain at the heart of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was that the role nuclear weapons played in the security policies of the major powers made their immediate abolition unlikely, however desirable it might have been – but that controlling their spread was nevertheless a global imperative.

Today, though, disarmers and deterrers often do seem like mutually exclusive groups – and nowhere more so, apparently, than in Europe. The 2015 NPT Review Conference’s failure to reach consensus may have been the product of global arguments about the status of the Middle East, but the preceding four weeks of discussion had also featured an exceedingly bad-tempered argument about disarmament. And the opposing poles of this argument were not, say, the United States and Iran, but instead Austria and France.

Austria is now the spiritual leader – complete with an eponymous pledge open to international signature, and an award to show for it – of a movement to draw attention to the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. The logic of the movement is that any conceivable use of nuclear weapons would be fundamentally inhumane; that nuclear weapons, for this reason, are not useable; and that, as unusable instruments of inhumanity, they should be legally prohibited. France, meanwhile, insists that the humanitarian initiative’s findings are not new; that disarmament ‘cannot be declared, it must be built’; and that deterrence is by no means a thing of the past.

What is interesting about these two poles, however – and what must presumably make life somewhat infuriating for the representatives of countries located in between them – is that they are not entirely mutually exclusive. Nuclear use would be catastrophic and, other than on a very limited scale, inherently inhumane. Yet the quiet reality of today’s international major-power system is that it relies, at least in the background, on the dampening effect of nuclear deterrence. These are descriptive statements, and the problem of course arises in moving to the prescriptive. It is nevertheless worth pointing out that there is nothing to stop them both being true.

There is perhaps no country that knows this better than Japan. The inhumanity of what was done to Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a founding element of post-war Japanese identity, and a primary motivator of Japanese disarmament diplomacy. But Japan is also a country that bases its security on a guarantee of extended deterrence from the United States, including nuclear deterrence. The reluctance of some Japanese officials to fully confront the reality of their country’s actions in the Second World War, moreover, can also complicate the way in which these matters are viewed. China responded churlishly, at the Review Conference, to Japan’s repeated requests to officially encourage visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the comments that ‘there are reasons why those two were bombed’, and ‘when will Japanese leaders … visit the memorial hall of victims in the Nanjing massacre?’

This week will see scores of sombre commentaries on the memory and legacy of Hiroshima. The seeming inconsistency of Japan’s position on nuclear weapons, and especially Japan’s approach to tackling its own war record, will probably elicit at least a few takes in the churlish mode, too; and the surge of disarmament advocacy will probably encourage others to write fiercely in defence of the role of nuclear deterrence. These diverging views are possible because, practically since the moment that Hiroshima was destroyed, it has been seen as a symbol both of nuclear weapons’ awfulness, and of the awesome power they might wield in war and in peace.

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS. This post draws on a chapter, co-authored with Benedict Wilkinson, in a forthcoming festschrift for Professor Lawrence Freedman. See Benedict Wilkinson and James Gow (eds), The Art of Creating Power: Freedman on Strategy (C. Hurst & Co., January 2016).

Elizabeth Pond: A Useful Stalemate in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin's undeclared war on once-fraternal Ukraine has destroyed Moscow's influence on Kiev, forged genuine Ukrainian identity in resistance and ended in a roughly stable stalemate in the eastern 3% of Ukraine that Russia now controls. However bitter that stalemate is to Putin, to Ukraine, and to the West, the least bad option may now be to prolong gridlock while diminishing casualties in Ukraine's Donbas coal region.

This could lock into place Putin's tacit admission of the rising costs of his misadventure, Kiev’s tacit cession of half of Donbas to Moscow and the West’s tacit adaptation of twentieth-century containment of the Soviet Union to twenty-first-century containment of revisionist post-Soviet Russia.

All three players have sought to limit the conflict on their own terms. Ukrainians have always had the inherently limited goal of defence. Putin started his war of choice confident that – in a theatre where Russia enjoys escalation dominance – he could restore the historical predominance of Russians over their Ukrainian ‘younger brothers’ in an operation that would be limited by the quick triumph of his own strong will over the hesitant West’s war fatigue. The West, which has scant geopolitical interest in Ukraine, has given Kiev moral support but has conspicuously restricted its military aid to a minimum in order to avert retaliatory Russian escalation up the chain to, as Putin has threatened, potential use of nuclear weapons.

At the same time, all the players have established their red lines. A year ago, when Ukraine's ragtag army and start-up militias gathered strength and came close to defeating Putin's proxy separatists in Donbas, Putin sent Russian airborne troops into battle (while denying that any Russian soldiers were there). They broke the Ukrainian siege in a matter of days and signalled that Putin would not allow his local proxies to lose. Kiev understood the message and initiated the first Minsk truce, but maintained its own red line in keeping Donbas de jure part of Ukraine.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel set out the West's red line that Russia's violation of international law and seven decades of peace in the European heartland was unacceptable. NATO mounted modest military exercises in the member states Putin was threatening – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – and announced plans to preposition heavy weapons there. Yet in Ukraine itself the West skirted the risk of triggering Russian escalation by avoiding direct military engagement and instead imposing financial sanctions on Russia to raise the long-term costs of Moscow's forcible land grabs.

Stalemate in Donbas is now testing these red lines. Harbingers suggest that President Putin may be the actor who feels the most pressure in finally beginning to admit to himself the damage to Russia from his misjudgements in Ukraine.

He first squandered his initial total influence over Ukraine by prodding his protégé, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, to rout pro-European demonstrators at ‘Euromaidan’ by violence that turned protesters into martyrs. He annexed Crimea, believing that German businessmen were too dependent on Russian oil and trade for Europe to resist this breach of international law. He then proclaimed a crusade to take over the eastern third of today's Ukraine, expecting Russian speakers there to rise up against Kiev and expecting the paltry Ukrainian armed forces to disintegrate before Russia's military behemoth.

He miscalculated. Chancellor Merkel led Germany and the whole European Union to join the US in imposing the sanctions that, together with low oil prices, are already pushing Russia into a major recession this year. Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine never rebelled en masse. The Ukrainian army and militias, despite being vastly outgunned, proved to be formidable fighters and raised the spectre for Moscow of the quagmire of a long guerrilla war. And Putin's war resuscitated NATO and turned ever wider circles of apolitical Ukrainians against Russia.

In the face of these serial tactical defeats Putin is now displaying less ardour for the fight in Ukraine. Lately he has seemed bored with Donbas and exasperated by the feuding criminals and mercenaries who are his separatist proxies there. He is conspicuously not moving to annex that war-ravaged rustbelt. He no longer speaks of ‘Novorossiya’, Catherine the Great's term for the part of Ukraine he was claiming. He reportedly sent his top Ukraine adviser, Vladislav Surkov, to the Donbas last month to tell the separatists to stop murdering each other and to cool their zeal for launching a new offensive. He has not repeated recently his earlier threats to escalate confrontation up to the nuclear level. He has been at great pains to hide the deaths of the Russian soldiers he swears are not in Ukraine from their wives and mothers.

By now there are rumblings of Russian military overstretch, concerns about a revival of anti-Russian rebellion in the North Caucasus through veterans returning from Ukraine, and worry about illegal weapons flowing into Russia across the Donbas border. And despite Western fears of an imminent Russian attack on Ukraine this summer, the 50,000-plus Russian troops massed on and over Ukraine's eastern border have so far done little more than join in the relatively low-level shelling across the Donbas truce line.

Does Putin's softer line hide from the West Moscow's preparation for a new assault in Ukraine? Or do Putin's build-up of troops on Ukraine's borders and menacing military exercises with nuclear-capable aircraft in the region hide from rabid Russian nationalists (as they suspect) a quiet retreat from belligerence by the Russian president? It's hard to tell.

Enshrining stalemate in a formal or informal agreement would by no means ensure a lasting peace in Ukraine. But it could at least reduce casualties and provide some measure of whether the strategic patience Chancellor Merkel has counselled from the beginning is finally dulling Putin's hubris. And it could give Kiev the space to get on with its Sisyphean efforts to rescue the moribund economy, reduce corruption, sideline Ukraine’s nastier oligarchs, and harness the private militias that have saved the country.

Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist and author. She has contributed several articles to Survival, most recently ‘Serbia Reinvents Itself’, in Survival, vol. 55, no. 4, August–September 2013, pp. 7–30.

Erik Jones: Countries Do Not Borrow, They Are Bought

A lot of the criticism of peripheral countries in the euro area relies on an implicit comparison with households or firms. The argument goes like this: these countries borrowed excessively after they joined the euro at the end of the 1990s in order to live beyond their means, and then got in trouble when they could not pay back the money. This argument is usually directed at the public sector in countries such as Greece and Italy; at the private sector in Ireland and Spain; and at both the public and private sector in Portugal. These countries have all received their comeuppance and – like any firm or household in a similar situation – they now have to live within their means.

This analogy between countries on the one hand, and households or firms on the other hand, is misleading, if not completely wrong. The reason is that countries do not ‘borrow’ in any conventional meaning of the term – at least not under normal circumstances. When things are going well, countries do not fill out an application with various lenders. They do not have to provide a business plan or show any bank statements. They do not offer up collateral or enlist the support of co-signers. These things only take place once a country gets into trouble and needs some kind of international bailout. ‘Borrowing’ for countries, in a conventional sense, means that something bad has already happened; it is the symptom and not the cause.

In normal times, countries don’t borrow; countries are bought. When we talk about ‘borrowing’ in an international sense, what we really mean is that some foreigner has come into the domestic market to make an investment. Most likely they bought government bonds or some kind of bank paper. But they can also take an equity stake in one or more large companies, they can deposit money in local banks or purchase those banks outright, or they can set up some activity of their own like a branch, subsidiary, or startup. These ‘investments’ from the foreigner’s perspective will show up as ‘borrowing’ for the country that receives the money in exchange for the assets that are bought from abroad.

You rarely, if ever, see this kind of activity in either households or firms. Nobody comes into your home and starts paying your bills, or goes into your firm and starts paying your workers, all with the expectation that you will pay that money back to them with interest at some point in the future. You don’t wake up one morning to find that someone has refinanced your mortgage, or started making you breakfast, or taken over mowing your lawn, expecting you to pay a fee for this service. Money doesn’t just appear in your bank account with a note attached that it might be called upon later. Moreover, if anything like that did happen, you would probably want to get the police involved. It doesn’t matter that these new ‘creditors’ might be doing things better and more cheaply than the more self-sufficient alternative. You would fear the power they suddenly acquired over your daily life, and you would want some say in how that played out.

Countries are not allowed to express that suspicion. On the contrary, the law tells domestic governments not to get involved. That is what capital market liberalisation is all about. It is a commitment to let foreigners buy things in the domestic economy as cheaply and as easily as domestic residents. This is what was promised with the completion of the single market in Europe; it is what motivated the financial services action plan and the Lamfalussy process; and it is behind the current project to create a capital-markets union as well. In all these cases, European countries had to sign up to a commitment to let foreigners buy whatever they wanted at whatever price the market would offer. Moreover, they signed up to that commitment long before the euro ever existed, and whether or not they had any intention to join the single currency. The idea behind doing so was that allowing money to flow from countries with surplus savings to countries that have good opportunities for investment will make everyone better off.

That idea is true in the aggregate. Capital market liberalisation does improve overall market efficiency and so also general welfare. But capital market liberalisation also redistributes income and risk in ways that work better for rich countries than for poor ones. Consider the situation in Italy. A lot of foreigners took advantage of capital market liberalisation in Europe to buy Italian government bonds. Only about 6% of Italian bonds were held by foreigners in the early 1990s; by the late 1990s more than a quarter of Italian government bonds were held by foreigners; that figure rose to almost half the total for Italian government bonds in circulation by 2007. This huge inflow was a boon to the Italian government because the treasury was able to sell bonds at a higher price and therefore a lower rate of interest. But it was a problem for Italian savers who were used to getting a good return on government debt instruments, and who suddenly found themselves priced out of the market. They had to park their savings in riskier assets as a consequence.

What was true for Italy was true elsewhere on the European periphery as well – again, both before the euro was created and whether or not the country joined the single currency. These were not places where people were looking to live beyond their means. They were places where foreigners were eager to take advantage of low prices and high rates of interest (or return) on their investments. And the more foreigners moved into the market to buy up the best assets on offer, the more they pushed the people who struggled to save money in these countries to look for less expensive, and therefore lower quality, alternatives. The foreigners made life cheaper, but the locals had to accept more risk.

Then there was a financial crisis in the United States that started in US mortgage markets early in 2007. This crisis had little direct connection to firms or households on the European periphery, but it had a big impact on international investors who suddenly needed money to cover their losses on bets they made in US mortgage instruments or investment banks. Those investors could not sell their US holdings because the markets there were already in free fall, and so they started to call the money back from peripheral Europe instead. In other words, they started selling the peripheral European assets they had bought in the 1990s and early 2000s. This selling began in 2008, gained momentum in 2009 and became a self-reinforcing process during the period from 2010–12. Foreign investors in peripheral countries sold government bonds and bank paper; they liquidated equity stakes; they closed their bank accounts; they disposed of their banks; and they shuttered any branches or subsidiaries. Meanwhile, other market participants who anticipated this would happen took out derivatives in order to bet that prices on the European periphery would fall. The domestic residents in peripheral Europe did not have the resources to purchase everything that foreigners were hoping to dump onto the markets, and they also could not replace the services or the money that foreigners had once provided. The problem wasn’t that these people had been living beyond their means; it was that they had been pushed by foreign investors into doing other things with their savings.

Worse, the investments made by domestic residents were even less liquid than those made by foreigners – because the foreigners had bought the best assets available, where by ‘best’ we should understand both most secure and easiest to sell. As a result, the economies of those countries on the European periphery suddenly stopped functioning, because the money to finance normal life was no longer available, because huge amounts of wealth had been lost as asset prices fell and because the cost of routine working capital was higher than anyone could tolerate in their business models or household budgets. Moreover, membership in the single currency was not a necessary condition, and the countries on the euro area periphery were not alone in suffering from the sudden loss of foreign capital. They were joined by other countries on the periphery of the European common market as well – including places as diverse as Iceland, Latvia, Hungary and Bulgaria.

The mythical Swabian housewife used by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to illustrate financial common sense in typical households has never experienced something similar to the buying and selling of financial instruments and key services on the periphery of Europe – at least not since the 1920s or 1930s. They haven’t seen their mortgages double overnight, their credit cards cancelled, their loans called in, their bank overdrafts cut, and their wages left unpaid. Neither has any small or medium-sized enterprise in Europe’s industrial heartland. But that is what took place for whole national economies in peripheral Europe. By implication, there is simply no parallel between what happens to household or firms and what happens to countries.

The countries that live on the periphery of the European common market did not choose to live beyond their means; they were convinced to let foreign investors have equal access to their assets. Those foreign investors started buying assets almost immediately – and they continued to do so right up until the US financial crisis started, fifteen years after Europe’s 1992 target to complete the internal market. Then, instead of buying, the foreigners started to sell. The citizens of countries like Greece were left to suffer the consequences.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Iran deal leaves N. Korea alone in rogue states club

North Korea’s rejection of an Iran-style nuclear deal, as conveyed by a Foreign Ministry spokesman on July 21, came as no surprise. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is different from Iran, he said, and its nuclear weapons programme 'is not up for bargain'.

The differences are indeed vast. Whereas Iran’s official policy is to reject nuclear weapons as haram (forbidden), North Korea’s nuclear-armed status is enshrined in its constitution and in its state ideology of the Byungjin line (simultaneous economic and nuclear weapons development). It is far easier to persuade a nation to accept limits on capabilities that are not yet realised than it is to effect a rollback of existing arsenals. As a trading nation with an international outlook, Iran could be pressured by means of economic sanctions and isolation; North Korea’s self-isolation offers protection against economic pressure as long it does not come from China, its one lifeline. Iran’s electoral political system, however imperfect, gives its people a voice; Kim Jong-un is an absolute dictator. For Iran’s adversaries, the economic pressure is backed up by realistic military options. In the DPRK case, South Korea and the United States are exceedingly cautious about employing force lest it escalate to war that would devastate Seoul.

Read the full article at NK News

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Erik Jones: Sustainable Integration as a Response to Draghi’s ‘Imperfect’ Union

When Mario Draghi was asked last Thursday (16 July) whether the recent crisis surrounding Greece had made the monetary union more vulnerable, he gave an astonishingly frank response. Draghi denied that the discussion about Greece made the union more vulnerable; nevertheless, he admitted that:

this union is imperfect. And being imperfect, is fragile, is vulnerable, and doesn’t deliver all the benefits that it could if it were to be completed. So the future now should see decisive steps on further integration.

The question this raises is how best to bring those ‘decisive steps’ about. The Five Presidents’ Report has some interesting ideas, but not all of them point in the right direction. Moreover, the basic assumption behind the effort needs retuning. Europe’s heads of state and government should spend more time thinking about sustainability (or resilience) when they try to push ahead with European integration. In doing so, they have to accept that the number of participants in different projects will fluctuate up and down depending upon their willingness and ability. They also have to accept that different projects will vary in intensity and importance over time – both generally and from one member state to the next. Hence rather than looking to achieve an ever closer union (or unions), the goal should be to make sure that European institutions continue to work effectively across these changes in membership and priority.

Building sustainable integration is a complex challenge for at least two reasons. Firstly, there are some situations where firm commitment to a project is the difference between success and failure. There are not many of these, but they are important. Monetary union as a system of irrevocably fixed exchange rates is at the top of the list. Resilience in this context means making sure that a member state can remain inside the single currency under any conceivable circumstance. Given the level of commitment required, it may also mean screening potential members closely before allowing them to join. I wouldn’t overemphasise this point, however, because it is easy to conceive of situations where even the most ‘qualified’ member states could get into trouble. If we can build institutions to handle those cases, they should also be able to manage the rest. That is what we can learn by examining the history of national currency unions.

Secondly, any decision by one member state to join or leave a project, or to raise or lower its priority, imposes costs on other member states. Here you might think of the internal market or the Schengen area, but you could also drill down to any particular aspect of either of these arrangements. These are institutional agreements that work to make it easier to do business by lowering transaction costs. Business tends to flow along the path of least resistance within such an environment. So any time you change the rules – by increasing or shrinking the membership or by changing how the different members interact – you force businesses to adapt. Resilience means facilitating that adaptation either by making it easier for firms to profit from new markets or by softening the impact of the markets (and opportunities) that may have lost.

Unfortunately, politicians and policymakers tend to confuse these two situations. This is easiest when the costs of adjustment are high. Politicians would rather argue that commitment is essential to the project than accept that adaptation is possible even if very painful. The United Kingdom could leave the European Union without destroying the European project, for example. Indeed, responsible European policymakers should be working right now to make that possible – not because it would be good for either Britain or for Europe to see the UK leave the EU but because it would be bad for Britain and for Europe to make the success of European integration hinge on a vote of the British electorate. UK voters should be responsible for their own fate and not that of the continent. Of course, there will be costs no matter what decision they make. The goal should be to ensure those costs are manageable and not catastrophic. In the worst case, a Britain that exits the European Union should be able to re-join.

The other kind of confusion is when policymakers try to recast a necessary commitment in terms of relative adjustment costs. We can see this in the debate about a ‘Plan B’ for Greece. The idea is that Greece could leave the euro as a single currency without changing the nature of the commitment for other countries. That idea rests on a category error. The euro is not like the internal market or Schengen. It is a different form of commitment insofar as a monetary union is defined as having exchange rates that are ‘irrevocably’ fixed. Of course there is no magical power that holds Greece in the euro. But if Greece were to leave – even ‘temporarily’ – it would change the institution it left behind into something different from a monetary union. Market participants would notice that difference and act upon it. And politicians would have succeeded in transforming a categorical commitment into a question of relative adjustment costs. Hence it would be only reasonable – by the same logic they used to usher Greece out in the first place – to anticipate that other countries could follow. This is not a view restricted to academic economists; European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici made this point explicitly last April. A number of journalists tried to get Draghi to say the same during his 16 July press conference; the fact that he artfully avoided their questions does not hide what we know to be his answer. Here it is worth citing Draghi at length:

I’m not going to comment on politicians’ statements. I only know what our mandate is. And our mandate is to act based on the assumption that Greece is, of course, and will be a member of the euro area.

The responsible course of action in the context of a categorical commitment is to find some way for Greece to remain a member of the euro under any conceivable circumstance. That means European policymakers have to find some way to resolve and recapitalise Greek financial institutions, to separate the fate of Greek banks from Greek government finances, and to allow the Greek government to default. These are not only conceivable scenarios but also necessary conditions for Greece to remain in the euro. By making it possible for these things to come to pass, European policymakers will succeed in making the euro more resilient insofar as it cannot be hostage to the fate of any one country. If allowing Greece to default inside the euro requires some kind of change in the legal framework, the reform will be worth the effort. European integration will become more sustainable as a consequence.

Europe will become weaker and not stronger if Greece exits from the euro. By the same token, Europe will become more fragile and not more resilient if can be held hostage to the outcome of the UK referendum. Europe’s leaders need to focus on fostering sustainable integration if they are to avoid these pitfalls. They will have to look beyond the Five Presidents’ Report to achieve that objective. A more perfect, less fragile, and less vulnerable union will be their reward.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.

Jeffrey Mazo: Feat of Discovery, Feet of Clay

Over the last few days, we’ve been seeing some spectacular images of Pluto and its moons from the New Horizons spacecraft, which made its closest approach on Tuesday after a nine-year trip. Mankind has now conducted missions to all nine planets (although Pluto was controversially reclassified as a ‘dwarf planet’ by the International Astronomical Union in 2006), completing our initial exploration of the solar system. But while the world can legitimately share in this triumph, it should be remembered that it has been a primarily American accomplishment. US spacecraft made the first successful trips to all nine planets, (beginning with Venus in 1962) and the first asteroid fly-past. Only Russia, Japan, India and the European Space Agency have otherwise independently conducted successful deep-space missions. With the exception of the pre-1991 USSR, these can be counted on the fingers of two hands.

This track record is both a reflection of and a contributing factor to the continuing US superiority in aerospace technology. It also illustrates what a nation can accomplish when it thinks strategically. The US space programme is almost unique these days in that it has broad public and political support that does not follow partisan lines. While the manned space programme has had its fits and starts, planetary exploration has kept a sustained focus for over half a century. And given the distances involved, such focus and long-term thinking is critical for individual missions. New Horizons was launched in 2006, and conducted useful science that year during an asteroid encounter and at Jupiter, before going into hibernation (with periodic health checks), during which time it still conducted passive data collection. After its success at Pluto, it will continue to explore other Kuiper belt objects in about five years’ time. (The first such object other than Pluto was only discovered in 1992.) Other US missions have even more impressive track records: the two Voyager probes have been in flight for more than 37 years, and Voyager 1 has left the solar system and crossed into interstellar space.

The US is also the only nation to have developed a manned spaceflight capability beyond low Earth orbit. But it abandoned that capability – the Apollo – 40 years ago. In light of the success of New Horizons, it is sobering to note that today is the fortieth anniversary of the ‘handshake in space’, part of the 1975 Apollo–Soyuz Test Project mission, the last Apollo flight. The US then lacked even an orbital manned capability for six years, until the first Shuttle flight in 1981. Since the last Shuttle flight in July 2011, the US has again lacked a manned spaceflight capability for four years, and will not have one for at least two more (see my post ‘Sanctions and Spaceflight’ from June last year). The Orion vehicle, currently under development, will be the first manned spacecraft with a deep-space capability, but that is nearly a decade away.

Manned spaceflight has always been more of a political than a scientific or commercial project; hence the cancellation of the Soviet-manned lunar programme after the successful landing of Apollo 11 in 1969, and the curtailment of the Apollo moon programme after only six landings, when there was no longer a Space Race to win. In fact it was the cancellation of the last three planned lunar missions in 1970 that made the hardware available for Skylab, America’s short-lived, essentially political response to the Soviet Salyut space station. The political function of manned spaceflight was no more evident than in the Apollo–Soyuz mission. Not only was it made possible by the cancellation of the lunar programme, it had an overtly political purpose and little real scientific justification. It stemmed from agreements made at the 1972 Moscow Summit, which also produced the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty and the US–Soviet Incidents at Sea treaty. It was, in effect, nothing but a symbol of détente and the end of direct competition in space. Its technical justification was to test a module that would allow US and Soviet spacecraft to dock with one another, enabling either country to launch a rescue mission should the need arise. It never did, but some of the technology survived in later-generation docking modules used for Shuttle visits to the Mir space station, and remains in use connecting a Russian-built module to the rest of the International Space Station.

Without the driver of international competition, the development of manned spaceflight would probably have been even slower and fitful than it has been. Much of that is down to cost – only now are commercial manned space vehicles beginning to be developed, and only because there is a market from governments. Setting aside development costs, the US half of Apollo–Soyuz consumed more than $1 billion in current dollars. New Horizons is expected to cost less than that over its expected two-decade lifespan, including all ground support and data analysis. Even thinking strategically, unmanned space exploration may appear to provide more political as well as more scientific bang for the buck. The potential benefits of long-term, deep-space, manned spaceflight capability – asteroid mining, Martian colonies, even interstellar colonies – remain in the realm of science fiction, even if some may become practical sooner than others. But if we can sustain, as we have done, a 50-year unmanned exploration effort, a similar manned effort could be economically and socially transformative over the course of the century.

In 1942, when a German V2 rocket became the first man-made object in space, the idea of planetary exploration was science fiction. Twenty years later the first spacecraft reached another planet. Now, more than 50 years later, we have visited them all – but not in person. Russian physicist and father of space travel Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857–1935) famously said that ‘Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot live in the cradle forever’. He didn’t live to see space travel become a reality, but he would marvel at the achievement of New Horizons 80 years later. Had it not been for the retrenchment after Apollo–Soyuz exactly halfway in between, who knows where we would be now?

Jeffrey Mazo is Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy at the IISS, and a Contributing Editor to Survival.

Erik Jones: The ECB's Choice

The Greek referendum has left the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) with a political choice that it should not have to make. The ECB will need cover from Europe’s political leaders no matter how this plays out. As with most important choices, this one will make some people very unhappy. We should expect to see opposition emerge both in the media and in the courts.

Worse, the choice that the ECB has to make will unfold in stages. It involves a series of decisions, not a simple one-off commitment. That means Europe’s political leaders will have to insulate its central bankers from opposition for the foreseeable future, and probably until long after the immediate crisis has passed. Finally, this is a choice that will define Europe’s future; not only will it tell us precisely what it means to be a member of the euro as a single currency, but it will also set a precedent for how much solidarity national governments should expect to receive and to offer.

At its core, the choice that the ECB has to make is whether or not to provide the Greek banks with enough liquidity to honour their deposits. That liquidity will most likely take the form of emergency liquidity assistance from the Greek central bank. This is not a simple decision. The ECB has to offer enough emergency liquidity assistance to reassure Greek depositors that they will be able to get access to their money as and when they need it. That is not possible under the cap that the ECB put in place once the Greek negotiations broke down. That is why Greek deposit holders are limited to withdrawing just €60 per day. When the banks finally reopen, they will want to be able to take out more. Only the ECB can make that possible. It will have to decide whether or not to do so.

Again, this is not a one-off decision. If the ECB decides to increase the liquidity that the Greek banks can access, it also has to decide to accept the collateral that they have to offer. This is challenging because most of that collateral is backed by the Greek government. The Greek government missed a payment to the IMF on 30 June, and it is no longer within a European bailout programme. The referendum outcome does not change either of those conditions. Hence it is an open question whether the ECB should continue to accept Greek government-backed assets as collateral. The ECB could delay giving an answer while the referendum was on the horizon; now that the referendum has passed, the ECB will need some new justification for pretending that the events of 30 June did not happen or do not matter. That is why the Governing Council chose to increase the discount (or ‘haircut’) it requires to accept Greek-government-backed collateral the day after the referendum took place. That decision was just an acknowledgment of reality and not a clear sign of what is to follow.

Moreover, the Greek government has a number of other payments to make for which it does not have the resources – including the repayment, on 20 July, of bonds held by the ECB itself. If the Greek government were to miss that repayment, then the ECB would have to justify how the Greek banks could use government-backed assets as collateral given that the Greek government had already failed to honour its obligations. Yet without using those assets, the Greek banks would have insufficient access to liquidity, no matter where the ECB sets the cap on its emergency assistance.

If the ECB decides to cut off the liquidity to the Greek banks – or to continue restricting it, which would amount to the same thing given how much liquidity the Greek banks require to re-open – then the question the ECB faces is how to minimise the threat of contagion to other countries in southern Europe. The conventional wisdom in the markets right now is that the ECB has the equipment in its arsenal, including both the promise to buy unlimited amounts of bonds from countries that get into trouble and the broader policy of buying assets from across Europe as part of its programme for quantitative easing. This conventional wisdom assumes that these instruments work automatically. Unfortunately, they do not.

The ECB can only buy unlimited amounts of debt from countries that get into trouble under specific conditions. The governments of those countries have to ask for help; they have to agree to accept supervision over their economic policies; and they have to retain access to private capital markets. Unfortunately, these are not easy conditions to meet. Most governments do not want to admit to the markets that they have a problem – which is what asking for help from the ECB means. Even if they are willing to admit that they have a problem, they do not want to accept European supervision over their economic policymaking. And they have little time to negotiate over terms and conditions because they face the risk that they will lose access to private capital markets. In other words, what sounds like a powerful instrument is actually very difficult to use in practice. That is why the Spanish government refused to ask for help from the ECB in the autumn of 2012 – even though solving the Spanish crisis was precisely why the ECB created this instrument in the first place.

If the ECB cannot use this more targeted policy of propping up individual governments, then it will have to rely on the more general policy of quantitative easing. There too, however, it is likely to run into trouble. Quantitative easing was only embraced by the Governing Council on two conditions. First, the purchases should be roughly proportional to the size of the economies in the euro area – in other words, if the German economy is roughly 1.5 times the Italian economy, then the ECB should buy €3 of German assets for every €2 of Italian assets. (Actually, the German economy is even larger relatively to Italy, but the numbers are easier this way). This is a problem because when investors get scared in Europe, they are likely to sell Italian assets and buy German assets. This means not only that the ECB will have to add to demand for German assets at a time when the price is already rising, but also that it will not be able to add enough demand for Italian assets to close the spread between Italy and Germany. On the contrary, the spread will widen unless the ECB chooses to ignore its obligation to buy bonds proportionately – which it can do, but only with adequate political cover.

Even if the ECB chooses to buy more Italian assets than German assets, it will become relevant to ask who will cover the losses if the policy fails to calm the markets. This is where the other provision written into the ECB policy of quantitative easing becomes important. The risk associated with purchases of Italian bonds should be held within Italy. That means that the more effort the ECB has to put into buying Italian bonds to calm the markets, the more risk the Bank of Italy must assume for a potential default by the Italian state. You don’t have to believe that the Italian state will actually default to see that this is a worrying dilemma for market participants. Beyond a certain threshold – and we don’t know where that is precisely – the increase in the potential losses from Italian government bonds held by the Bank of Italy will become more worrisome than the purchases of additional Italian bonds will be reassuring. Hence the ECB will have to find some way around this national responsibility for assuming the risk from national bonds to make sure that the crisis in Greece does not spread.

However this turns out, the ECB will need to make a choice for Europe to avoid catastrophe. It can choose to save the Greek banks, and hold Greece in the euro; it can choose to bail out countries that get into distress without forcing them into humiliating admissions of weakness or conditions for support; it can act more stealthily to purchase assets without strict proportionality; or it can finally admit that the risks associated with ECB activities belong to all eurozone countries, and not just those that issue the assets the ECB purchases. These are all political choices and so arguably go beyond the mandate of the ECB. But they are necessary choices and so Europe’s politicians must be prepared to back whatever the ECB thinks is most sustainable. What we know now from harsh experience is that making no choice is actually the worst choice of all.

This essay appears in Italian at Il Foglio.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.

Erik Jones: Broken Europe

The Greek referendum was a postmodern event, and I don’t mean that in a good way. The question was an ‘empty signifier’: no one could understand its literal meaning, and that literal meaning was no longer relevant in any case. So you can think of referendum as a big symbol that Greek voters could fill with whatever they wanted; hopes, aspirations, worries and disappointments all fit in nicely. Moreover, there was no reason any one person had to interpret the question in the same way as anyone else. On the contrary, Greek politicians tried anything to find a hook that would pull voters to their side of the issue. No wonder Greek society was evenly (if deeply) divided. Is the glass half full or half empty? Is it really a ‘glass’? What is ‘it’? Even the response assignments were counter-intuitive. According to the government, Greeks voted ‘no’ to have a brighter future; according to the opposition, Greeks voted ‘yes’ if they feared the unknown. What’s more, the process itself was controversial. Greece’s detractors decried this whole exercise as cynical manipulation; for Greece’s supporters, it was a celebration of democracy.

This kind of postmodern referendum sheds harsh light on what is broken in Europe. All you have to do is look at the sputtering objections and equivocations of leaders across the European continent to see that there is no straightforward vision of what European integration is all about. Moreover, this was hardly the first time we have found ourselves facing such a plebiscite. Somehow in my mind I absolve the first British referendum of the accusation of being postmodern. The 1992 Danish referendum is a better illustration. The Danish government gave everyone copies of the Maastricht Treaty – which is actually a collection of treaty amendments rather than a coherent document – to every household and asked if they were for it or against it. The Danish people said ‘no’, and so the Danish government asked them to do the whole thing all over again. Of course they pretended that they won concessions from the rest of Europe, like the ability to opt out of the single currency, but in fact those were already in the original document. Worse, the Danish central bank has ignored that opt-out and acted as though it was already inside the single currency. I guess the Greeks don’t have a monopoly on cynicism.

The Irish referendum on the Nice Treaty in 2001 was another postmodern expression in democratic ‘consultation’. The Irish government failed to campaign in favour of ratification because it was piqued over a reprimand by the Council of Economics and Finance Ministers (for running too small a fiscal surplus), and so the ‘no’ camp was able to rally the electorate to vote down the treaty for a host of reasons, ranging from neutrality to abortion, despite the fact these had little to do with the actual document. European Commission President Romano Prodi complained soon thereafter that the Irish obviously hadn’t understood the question. After an ‘appropriate’ passage of time, the Irish government went back to the people and asked them again. Alas, this is not the last time the Irish went through such a process. They did much the same with the Lisbon Treaty. There is nothing more postmodern than repetition. Except repetition.

The French and Dutch referendums on the European Constitutional Treaty also deserve mention. Let’s ignore the reasons these referendums were organised. What is interesting is to look at the post-referendum polling done by Eurobarometer to see why people rejected that treaty in the two different countries. What you will find is that the French and the Dutch rejected the constitutional treaty for very different motivations. The French feared that the new Europe would not go far enough in taming the market; the Dutch feared that it would go too far and threaten their national autonomy. The European compromise was to give both sides roughly the same institutional architecture without referring to the document as a ‘constitutional’ treaty. This was persuasive enough to convince French and Dutch politicians not to call a second referendum.

What is lacking in all this is a clear vision of what the European Union is and how European integration relates to national democracy. That is why Europe is broken. Moreover, the Greeks are neither the first, nor the largest, nor the most insistent member state in pointing out this tension at the heart of European integration – that would be the Danes, the French and the Irish, respectively. (Though, in fairness, the Danes and the Irish are running neck-and-neck in terms of insisting on holding these postmodern referendums. If you want to know why Europe’s leaders are afraid to reform the basic treaty structures of the European Union, look no further).

The problem with the referendum in Greece was that the Greeks were holding it. Now everyone will blame the outcome on unspecified cultural factors. I mean, what would the Greeks know about democracy or about Europe? It is not like they invented either of these concepts? Of course if the Swiss had held such a consultation exercise, then we could have felt more comfortable. Just look at the February 2014 Swiss referendum on ‘mass immigration’. In case you were wondering, ‘immigration’ is another empty signifier.

The Greek referendum not only reveals that Europe is broken, it also gives Europeans an excuse to ignore their own failings. Indeed, that is the most postmodern characteristic of this whole process. The referendum is an empty signifier that everyone can fill with the worst of themselves, creating an artificial feeling of distance from their own problems. What the Greeks and the rest of Europe need to do is exactly the opposite. European leaders have to ‘own’ this problem – where by ‘this’ I mean not just the financial situation in Greece, but the whole broken nature of European integration. If they refuse to accept that challenge, this will not be Europe’s last postmodern referendum. Just look to the United Kingdom, and you will see that much worse is yet to come.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.

Erik Jones: The Long-Term Consequences of a Greek Exit

There is currently a debate between those who argue that the single currency can more easily survive a Greek exit from the euro than it could have in the past and those who argue that it will be a shock to the markets similar to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. That debate will only end if the crisis abates or there is a natural experiment. The differences between the two camps are irreconcilable.

There is less discussion of what the longer-term impact of Greece exiting the euro would be. Optimists argue that the euro will emerge as a more disciplined union because member states will know that they will not be bailed out. Pessimists warn that Europe will stagger from crisis to crisis as market participants turn on weaker member states at the first sign of trouble. This seems to be a stark dichotomy and yet it is not.

What both sides are saying is that markets will start to price national assets differently across the monetary union and depending upon how well each country is governed. Hence the longer-term consequence of Greece exiting the euro is a return of geographic risk to European financial markets. The question is how much that geographic risk will cost in terms of economic performance and stability.

There are three reasons to believe that the cost will be high. The first has to do with economic performance. Any difference in bond prices across countries will also affect the price of capital for non-financial enterprises. This means that Italian, Spanish and Portuguese firms will pay more to raise capital and to pay for new investments than their German, Dutch and Austrian counterparts. It also means that larger firms in peripheral markets will have an added cost advantage over small and medium-sized enterprises. As a result, the peripheral countries will grow more slowly and benefit from less innovation than they would otherwise. This will drag down European growth prospects overall.

The second reason has to do with economic stability. The introduction of geographic risk premiums will interfere with the transmission mechanism for European monetary policy. This is the problem that European Central Bank President Mario Draghi warned about at the height of the Italian and Spanish crises in July 2012 and it is the reason he launched the programme for Outright Monetary Transactions the following September. The problem is that changes in monetary policy instruments in Frankfurt have less impact on monetary conditions in the periphery when markets price in geographic risk. Peripheral economies will experience greater macroeconomic volatility as a consequence. Moreover, national fiscal policy will not expand to compensate. On the contrary, the market incentives will be for national fiscal policy to act pro-cyclically by tightening when tax revenues contract and expenditures increase, which is what happens during an economic downturn. Such macroeconomic volatility will create another structural difference between those countries that are privileged and those that are punished by the markets.

The third reason to believe that the cost of reintroducing geographic risk premiums will be high has to do with the efficiency of market infrastructures. Here we should look at the European Union’s real-time gross payment system (Target 2, or T2) and its new arrangement for cross-border settlement in securities (T2S). Greece is a full member of Target 2 and one of four founding members of T2S. Should Greece exit from the euro, European leaders will need to figure out how to unwind Greek positions in both arrangements. We do not have to know how that unwinding will take place to imagine that it will be a shock to the two connected systems. The result will be a change in how peripheral countries access central bank money for payment and settlement. The current systems are built for speed and efficiency; any future arrangement will sacrifice some of those advantages in favour of geographic risk management. Once again the peripheral countries will be disadvantaged.

The longer term impact of Greece exiting from the euro will be the creation of a two-tiered (or multi-tiered) Europe – with one tier suffering permanent disadvantages in terms of the cost of capital, the volatility of macroeconomic performance and the efficiency of market infrastructures. Moreover, this future is consistent with the predictions of both the optimists and the pessimists. Whatever the short-term impact of Greece leaving the euro, there will be expensive and divisive long-term consequences.

This blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford, United Kingdom.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Verifying an Iran nuclear deal

Discussions in Vienna this week confirmed for me two things concerning verification of Iran’s nuclear programme by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Firstly, no deal can be acceptable that would preclude the agency’s future access to military sites or nuclear scientists. Demands by the Iranian parliament, the Supreme Leader and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders to prohibit such access must be rejected. Secondly, Iranian failure to account fully for past nuclear work of a possible military dimension (PMD) should not preclude a deal as long as future nuclear activity can be verified. Both of these conclusions revolve around the agency’s Additional Protocol (AP). In force now in 126 states, it is the global norm for nuclear safeguards. Under the comprehensive agreement currently in final stages of negotiation with the six major powers, Iran has agreed to accept the AP international norm. As Iran’s negotiators know, the AP allows for access anywhere in the country where the IAEA has legitimate questions to pursue; there is no exception for military sites, although the access can be 'managed'.

Over the past several years, the agency has visited military sites a dozen or so times in countries that have adopted the AP. Access to scientists is even more common. Iran cannot be given special status that would undermine this key safeguards tool, setting a negative precedent for other states to also demand. As IAEA officials put it privately, while it would be good to have an ‘Additional Protocol plus’ (provisions that go beyond the AP), an ‘Additional Protocol minus’ could cause wider problems.

And by the way, once accepted by a state, the AP in all of its provisions becomes a legal requirement. Iran’s negotiators have maintained that because they cannot presume to speak for their parliament in its ratification role, AP acceptance would be voluntary and provisional.  Until it is ratified, therefore, Iran should not enjoy the full fruits of sanctions relief.

Some sanctions should also continue to apply until the IAEA is able to draw the so-called ‘broader conclusion’ under the Additional Protocol that all nuclear material in the country remains in peaceful activities. Given Iran’s many past safeguards infractions and incomplete cooperation in addressing agency questions, drawing this conclusion will take some time. It can be done if Iran is forthright, but it won’t be done if there remain legitimate reasons for doubt.

This relates to the issue of Iran’s past PMD activities and the degree to which they need to be clarified. I say ‘past’ because there is no solid evidence that weaponisation work continues in the present. Most of the suspicious activity stopped in 2003. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in 2011 that Iranian activities related to PMD seem to have ‘continued until quite recently’. When the agency in its November 2011 report detailed the PMD concerns, only four of 65 paragraphs mentioned indications of development of nuclear explosive devices after 2003 and the last such indication was in 2009.

IAEA officials rightly remain frustrated that Iran has stonewalled them for many years in addressing the alleged past weaponisation work. The agency’s November 2011 report listed details of 12 kinds of work relevant to weaponisation, for which it had credible indications. To date, Iran has partially addressed only one and a half of those allegations, claiming that the activities in question were for civilian purposes. It continues to claim that most of the allegations are based on forged documents.

Obviously there is no prospect of Iran clearing up the allegations before the 30 June deadline for an agreement, nor if the deadline is extended for a few days or weeks. This should not preclude a comprehensive deal being reached, as long as Iran agrees to allow access to sites such as the Parchin military base and to some of the individuals who are implicated in the PMD-related evidence. Allowing such access regarding PMD sets the proper precedent for future IAEA access rights. Over the initial implementation period of the deal, which will take at least six months, Iran would be tasked with providing this access and reasonable answers regarding the alleged activities in question.

There is no reason for optimism that Iran will satisfy IAEA concerns during the implementation period. Nevertheless, even if Iran continues to stonewall, the IAEA should make an assessment based on the totality of the evidence available by the end of the initial implementation period. As in the case of Syria, the agency may conclude that Iran probably engaged in clandestine nuclear-weapons-related activity in the past, noting as well that this activity appears to have stopped.

Drawing such a conclusion about past work would not preclude the agency in the future from drawing positive conclusions about ongoing nuclear activity. If and when the agency can draw the broader conclusion that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities, then remaining UN sanctions should be lifted. If in the latter years of a deal it becomes apparent that the IAEA is not making progress toward being able to draw the broader conclusion, then previously suspended sanctions should be reapplied.

When I came back from Vienna late in the evening of 23 June and read about Supreme Leader Khamenei’s speech of the same day making even more unacceptable demands, I questioned whether he truly wanted a deal. I know Western leaders do, although not so much as to bend to unreasonable demands. A deal must accord verification its rightful place: maintaining IAEA rights and keeping an eye to the future.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Erik Jones: Lessons to Learn (and Not to Learn) from the Greek Crisis

Europe’s heads of state and government held an emergency summit on Greece at roughly the same time that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled a report he had drawn up with support from the presidents of the European Parliament, European Council, European Central Bank and Eurogroup for ‘Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union’. This juxtaposition is only partly coincidental. The ‘five presidents’ have been working on their report because the ongoing crisis in Greece makes it clear to all that there are still important gaps in the architecture of the single currency. Greece is not, however, the only reason many regard further reform of European institutions for macroeconomic governance as inevitable.

Reconsideration of the institutional requirements for a stable monetary union (re)started in October with concern expressed by the European Council about the need for action across multiple fronts to promote growth and employment. It gained momentum with recognition among members of the euro group that ‘closer coordination of economic policies is essential to ensure the smooth functioning of the Economic and Monetary Union’. It became a formal part of the European policy agenda when the European Council called for the report last December, and began to take shape in the form of an analytical note, presented to the European Council in February, diagnosing the origins of the European crisis. It has ultimately evolved into a two-stage process for the completion of interlocking economic, financial, fiscal and political unions.

The crisis in Greece is at best only an illustration of the problems resulting from an incomplete monetary union. Nevertheless, Greece is the lens through which many European policymakers perceive and understand the European crisis. Therefore it is important to pay attention to what we should learn and what we should not learn from the Greek crisis as European policymakers prepare to undertake a comprehensive institutional reform agenda.

The first – and most important – lesson from Greece is that banks should not rely excessively on capital and collateral that is backed by their national governments. The systemically important Greek banks all survived the ‘comprehensive assessment’ administered by the European Central Bank in 2014. In other words, they were sufficiently capitalised to remain solvent even under adverse circumstances. They also had sufficient collateral to gain access to liquidity. Unfortunately, however, those factors held only so long as the Greek government remained creditworthy and stayed within its bailout programme.

Once it became clear that the Greek government would leave the programme in February, the European Central Bank lifted the waiver that made Greek government-backed assets eligible as collateral for routing liquidity operations. That decision is what pushed the Greek banks into their dependence upon emergency liquidity assistance from the Bank of Greece. Fast-forward to the present, that same decision is what has brought the crisis to a head. For a variety of reasons, the banks are likely to run out of access to emergency liquidity assistance before the Greek government actually defaults. The Greek banks would be safe if they had different capital and different collateral. As things stand, they are the canaries in the coal mine. The single currency is the mine itself.

Europe’s economic and monetary union needs a new financial architecture. The five presidents’ report gets that part right. The proposal for a credible backstop for resolution funding and a European deposit insurance scheme would be particularly useful in restoring confidence in the Greek banks. Nevertheless, those proposals would not eliminate the exposure of Greek banks to capital and collateral backed by the Greek government. Hence the report should go further – and it does. As part of this architecture, the single currency needs a centralised system for sovereign debt management to create sound assets that banks can use to collateralise their treasury operations. The creation of a European Treasury, as proposed by the five presidents, would be an important step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the five presidents identify the right instrument for the wrong reasons. Their report argues that Europe needs ‘more joint decision-making on fiscal policy’. A European Treasury would provide a focal point for the exercise of policy discretion through collective decision-making. The second lesson from the Greek crisis, however, is that Europeans do not want collective decision-making on fiscal policy. Instead, they want to have autonomy over who to tax and how to spend. They also want autonomy over entitlements and incentives. Most of all, they will preserve that autonomy even at great risk. For example, German politicians refuse to be ‘blackmailed’ into bailing out the Greek state (supporting Greek pensions or subsidising Greek public-sector employment) even at the risk of a Greek default sparking a humanitarian crisis followed by a Greek exit from the single currency; Greek politicians refuse to concede on pensions, privatisations or other fiscal targets even though they may ultimately run out of cash.

Such disagreements over fiscal discretionary matters are not uncommon. You can find wide divergences in fiscal practices across US state governments like those of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. You can also find numerous examples of secessionist movements rooted in demands for greater fiscal autonomy – as in Belgium, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. Collective decision-making over fiscal matters requires a high degree of solidarity. What Greece reveals is that such solidarity is largely absent at the European level. This does not preclude the possibility that future generations will be able to make more decisions in common but it does suggest that that future is not now.

Discretionary policy is not only about who pays and who benefits. It is also about the goals of macroeconomic governance – including aggregate demand management. The five presidents seem to believe that Greece and other peripheral countries would be better off if there were some fiscal mechanism for aggregate demand management at the European level. That is why the five presidents call for a European Treasury. The passage is worth quoting at length:

There are many ways for a currency union to progress towards a Fiscal Union. Yet, while the degree to which currency unions have common budgetary instruments differs, all mature Monetary Unions have put in place a common macroeconomic stabilisation function to better deal with shocks that cannot be managed at the national level alone.

There are at least three things wrong with this statement. Firstly, there is no reason to believe that a European Treasury would have done much to support economic activity on the European periphery or in Greece in particular. If you look at long-depressed regions within countries – like the Mezzogiorno in Italy or Andalusia in Spain – it is easy to understand my pessimism. As I have argued elsewhere, the use of fiscal instruments for macroeconomic stabilisation works best over time and not across geographic space. The only exceptions are those systems like Finanzausgleich in Germany, which target inter-regional differences directly. But such systems depend upon a huge degree of inter-regional solidarity that does not exist in most places – even large federal arrangements like the United States. As a result, the putative benefits of federal fiscal systems are wildly overrated even as the political costs of common fiscal institutions threaten the unity of countries as mentioned above. The ongoing campaign by right-wing Republicans to ‘defund’ the US federal government is an added example.

A second problem is figuring out which ‘mature Monetary Unions’ the five presidents have in their dataset. The Belgium–Luxembourg economic and monetary union did not have a common treasury for macroeconomic stabilisation policy. Moreover, efforts by Belgium to engage in aggregate demand stabilisation in the 1980s played a large role in generating enthusiasm among the Luxembourgers to build their own central bank and join a different ‘common currency’ – meaning one in which Belgium was no longer primus inter pares. As for big financial areas like the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, they developed unified treasury operations long before economists even understood notions of aggregate demand management. Their goal was to create stable instruments for the management of government finances. In this goal, they were aided and abetted by banks who sought to profit from providing finance to sovereign authorities. Over time, banks and sovereigns developed a symbiotic relationship with sovereign debt instruments evolving into a universally recognised ‘risk free’ asset to use in treasury operations.

This common ‘risk-free’ asset is what the euro area currently lacks and the five presidents should seek to replace. Otherwise domestic banking systems will continue to remain bound to local sovereign authorities much as the Greek banks are bound to the Greek state. This bank–sovereign linkage highlights the third problem with the statement in the five presidents’ report. They say that ‘the degree to which currency unions have common budgetary instruments differs’. That is undeniable given the wide variety of instruments that are available for government financing. Nevertheless, there is a point of commonality as well. That shared attribute is the preference that financial market participants have for one instrument within each monetary union over all the rest when they engage in a flight to liquidity or a flight to safety.

That order of preferences is true in the euro area as well. The problem is that the instruments most preferred by financial actors in times of duress are bunds, which are issued by a single participating country – Germany. This is a third lesson from the Greek crisis. It is hard to think of any other ‘mature Monetary Union’ that has a similar arrangement. And it is easy to see how such an arrangement could be unstable, particularly if there is less supply of that instrument within the monetary union than there is demand for liquidity and safety. If Greek banks held ‘eurobonds’ or some other shared ‘risk-free’ asset, there would be no banking crisis in Greece today and there would be no risk that a default by the Greek government would force Greece to exit the euro as a common currency – any more than Detroit (or California, etc.) was forced to exit the dollar.

Mere mention of the word ‘eurobonds’ is likely to turn off some readers, who will roll their eyes at the political impossibility of creating mutualised sovereign debt instruments. Those same readers all have Visa or MasterCard in their wallets, and have access to mutualised consumer credit instruments issued by banks shared by people across the globe. They probably also work for firms that take both Visa and MasterCard in payment for at least some of their operations. And they continue to use credit cards despite the fact that they know – or have at least heard of – people who have gotten into trouble by running up too much credit-card debt. Somehow the existence of this technology offers nothing to convince them that sovereigns could operate within a similar network that combined both limits on borrowing as a share of disposable income and ongoing assessments of creditworthiness within which the default of a single participant need not bring down the system as a whole. It is easier to pretend that the fault lies elsewhere than to imagine that familiar financial instruments could solve complex public policy problems. The tragedy is that many Greeks may lose access to the Visa and MasterCard networks as a consequence.

Another way of looking at the Greek crisis is through the twin lenses of ‘competitiveness’ and fiscal responsibility. These are long and complex arguments for which the five presidents have two institutional solutions. One is to create national competitiveness authorities like they have in Belgium and the Netherlands to keep an eye on relative wage costs and market-structural reforms. The other is to create an ‘advisory European Fiscal Board’ to provide additional oversight on national processes of fiscal consolidation.

There is something ironic about both proposals. The Belgian and Dutch competitiveness authorities emerged out of beggar-thy-neighbour macroeconomic strategies designed to shift unemployment from the Low Countries onto Germany and France. They worked, but only because Belgium and the Netherlands are relatively small countries. Such measures also created labour-market distortions. Perhaps that is a small price to pay to help prevent small countries from crashing out of the eurozone; nevertheless, it is no panacea. A close look at the data suggests that Greece did not suffer because of a lack of competitiveness – and neither did Ireland or Italy. (Spain and Portugal fit the competitiveness argument more closely. Even there, however, it is unclear that more ‘competitive’ labour markets would have been sufficient to prevent the problems that emerged around the cajas in Spain or government finances in Portugal.)

As for the advisory European Fiscal Board, the analysis confuses cause and effect. Here the fourth and final lesson from Greece is important. The problem is not that the Greek government lost control over its finances; the problem is that the rest of Europe cannot allow the Greek government to default. Moreover, financial market participants have long recognised that fact. That explains why the spreads between Greek and German assets were so narrow for much of the history of the single currency. Again the explanation points back to the link between Greek government finances and the stability of the Greek banks. If this link were severed, then Greek policymakers would face market discipline.

Market discipline on sovereign borrowing is hardly perfect and the Greeks might have gotten into trouble nonetheless. The difference in a world with eurobonds or some other common risk-free asset would be that Greek policymakers would not be holding Greek banks hostage and they would also have no reason to exit the euro. The two worst case scenarios – capital controls and a Greek exit from the single currency – would be eliminated not because of the advice of a European Fiscal Board but by the circulation of a shared risk-free asset for use across the monetary union.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford, United Kingdom.

Jeffrey Mazo: The Pope’s Divisions

It has been less than a decade since climate change began to emerge at the top of the international agenda. In March 2007, in his first major address after taking office, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there was an urgent need to reframe the debate from an environmental to a development and security issue, and that it would be one of his top priorities as secretary-general. Six weeks later, on the eve of the first Security Council debate on climate change and security, UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett gave the Annual Winston Churchill Memorial Lecture in New York, comparing the security implications of climate change to a ‘gathering storm’ – the title of Churchill’s volume on the build-up to world war in the 1930s.

It is, funnily enough, in the same book that we first hear of Stalin’s 1935 rejoinder to French politician Pierre Laval: ‘How many divisions has the Pope?’ (Other sources have Stalin saying it to Churchill himself in Moscow in 1944). Unlike Stalin, we cannot, willy nilly, disregard the Pope as powerless or his official teachings with regard to climate change as pointless. As the spiritual leader of more than 15% of the world’s population and representative of a 2,000-year ethical and moral tradition, he may have more soft power than any other individual on the planet. So the publication yesterday of Pope Francis’s encyclical letter ‘Laudato Si’’ on ‘Care for Our Common Home’  is sure to have a major impact on public discourse, and perhaps on policy, in the run-up to the Paris Climate Conference in December. In some respects it is already changing the dialogue.

About one-third of the document deals with issues of Christian, and specifically Catholic, theology and ethics with regard to environmental questions, addressed to Catholic bishops as a contribution to the social teachings of the Church. But the encyclical is nevertheless an open letter to ‘every person living on this planet’. Francis urgently appeals for ‘a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all...Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity.’

Climate change is, Francis says, ‘a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.’ But although the letter has been widely reported as a ‘climate change encyclical’, it in fact covers the global environmental crisis more broadly. Challenges such as pollution, water security and biodiversity are given equal (or greater) space, and collectively they are coupled with social problems such as the declining quality of life, global inequality and weak international policymaking. In a chapter discussing the human roots of the ecological crisis, Francis also touches on topics such as genetically modified animals and crops and genetic engineering more broadly. He blames a global ‘dominant technocratic paradigm’ and ‘modern anthropocentrism’, ‘rampant individualism’ and a ‘self-centred culture of instant gratification’.

The title of the encyclical, ‘Laudato Si’’ (‘Praise be to You’) is a reference to a canticle written by St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecologists and the Pope’s namesake and inspiration. After St Francis, the next thing he invokes is ‘Pacem in Terris’ (‘Peace on Earth’), Pope John XXIII’s hugely influential 1963 encyclical on human rights, politics, international relations and nuclear proliferation. That document was the first papal encyclical to be addressed to ‘men of goodwill’ beyond the Church, and therefore a model for ‘Laudato Si’’. But the connection goes deeper. Francis explicitly compares global environmental deterioration with a ‘world teetering on the edge of nuclear crisis’. ‘Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now. We need to reflect on our accountability before those who will have to endure the dire consequences.’ (For a discussion of this trope, see my Closing Argument ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’ in the June–July 2008 issue of Survival.) And Francis notes that the 1963 document ‘not only rejected war but also offered a proposal for peace’. It is his ideas for coping with the environmental crisis that make up the meat of Francis’s letter. He calls for an integral environmental, economic, social and cultural ecology based on the principles of the common good, differentiated responsibilities and justice across generations. (I will discuss his ethical position and vision of how to achieve this in greater detail in Survival later this year).

The initial reaction has been unsurprising, in part because the fact of the encyclical and the direction of Francis’s thinking have been known for six months, and the Vatican hosted a conference on climate change and sustainable development in May, with keynotes by Ban Ki-moon and the Pope himself. But even without foreknowledge the response was predictable. The letter has been welcomed by environmental campaigners and scientists, and disparaged by many conservative politicians, particularly in the United States. It is notable that Francis cites US bishops in particular on the need to give greater attention to ‘the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests’. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Francis should leave science to the scientists and focus on theology and morality. Another candidate, Jeb Bush, said he didn’t get economic policy from the Pope: ‘I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm’. Both are Catholics. Of course Catholic politicians should not be (or be assumed to be) blind followers of papal fiat, a prejudice that haunted US Catholics for generations and that John F. Kennedy had to address and overcome in his presidential campaign in 1960. But many politicians who reject the Pope’s views on the environment are quick to cite papal opinion or Catholic doctrine as moral and ethical support of conservative social policies. And Francis’s encyclical is a moral, ethical and theological document aimed at making people better (and better off); it is because he leaves science to the scientists that he accepts their conclusions about the nature of the crisis.

‘Laudato Si’’ is clearly intended to shape the international debate and generate a paradigm shift over the long term. But to the extent that the letter has a short-term purpose with regard to the international climate negotiations and the make-or-break conference in Paris this December, however, it is targeted less at the US political sphere than at the world’s 51 Catholic-majority countries. The US, to be sure, is the fourth most Catholic country in absolute numbers, but Catholics make up less than a quarter of the population. Europe has a Catholic/Orthodox majority (it is notable that Francis spends as much time on the views of the spiritual head of the Orthodox Church as he does on St Francis of Assisi’s), but Europe has a unified and progressive position on climate policy. It is among developing and emerging economies in Latin America and Central Africa, in particular, that the Pope’s message is most likely to resonate. (Many US Catholics, moreover, are recent immigrants from Latin America.) Developing countries generally work through the G77 to establish common positions in climate negotiations, but larger blocs are increasingly fragmenting and alliances are becoming more fluid. Brazil and Mexico are particularly important players. In this context, the Pope’s views, especially on the key issue of common but differentiated responsibilities, could be highly influential.

And then there is Russia, one of the world’s top five greenhouse-gas emitters (counting the EU as a bloc) and (along with the US, but for entirely different reasons) one of the chief villains of the Kyoto phase of climate policy. Russia’s position in Paris will be significant. Russia has an Orthodox majority and under Putin the Russian Orthodox Church and the state are increasingly aligned. Neither the Church nor its leadership have taken a stand on climate change and both have stood aloof for the most part from efforts of the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople to bring Catholicism and Orthodoxy closer together. In the short term at least, Francis probably doesn’t have the divisions to bring Russia on board, but he is in it for a long campaign. As a non-believer myself, I’ll nevertheless pray he succeeds in shifting the policy debate, not just in Russia, but in the world as a whole.

Jeffrey Mazo is Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy at the IISS, and a Contributing Editor to Survival.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Limiting Iran’s nuclear R&D

Among the several reasons I was pleasantly surprised by the 2 April Lausanne accord was that Iran agreed not to use anything other than first-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium for ten years. The IR-1 is the Model T of the centrifuge industry – clunky, slow and prone to break-down. Given its limited efficiency, keeping Iran’s programme restricted for now to the IR-1 is a significant confidence-building measure.

Not long ago Iranians were promoting an alternative way of limiting the enrichment output which would have involved replacing the IR-1s with a smaller number of advanced models. The idea was that it wasn’t the number of centrifuges that mattered but rather the amount of enriched uranium produced. But allowing advanced models would have given Iran the capability for more rapid future expansion, so the United States and its negotiating partners pressed to limit both the enrichment output and the way it is produced.

As a result, the 1,000 second-generation models (designated IR-2m) that are now installed at Natanz will be removed and packed away. Although they won’t be dismantled, the decade they spend in storage will see inevitable deterioration. Just as North Korea’s two plutonium-production reactors that were under construction rusted away due to the freeze imposed under the 1994 Agreed Framework, a freezing of Iran’s IR-2m centrifuges should also result in effective disablement.

Iran’s willingness to pack away the IR-2m’s was probably influenced by poor performance indicators. Iran purchased Pakistani versions of the IR-2m from the A.Q. Khan network back in 1995, but in 20 years has never managed to get this model to work well. There is a reason that the 1,000 IR-2ms that were installed at Natanz in the first half of 2013 were never used to enrich uranium.

Iran has thus moved on to experiment with more advanced models: the IR-4, IR-5, IR-6 and IR-8. Several of these machines are installed at the Natanz pilot enrichment plant, where they have been operating off and on singly and in small cascade configurations. Under the terms of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action, Iran was allowed to operate what it had at the time, but not to introduce more or better models nor to do more than it had been doing before the freeze was imposed. When the IAEA revealed in November 2014 that Iran had intermittently fed uranium gas into an IR-5 that had not previously enriched uranium, the United States complained and Iran stopped it.

The rules in existence at the time were not clear as to whether or not the IR-5 feeding was a violation. When the interim deal was extended later that month, the restrictions on research and development (R&D) were tightened in order to remove ambiguities. Under the extension, Iran agreed not to test the IR-2m in large cascades, not to feed gas into the IR-5, not to test the IR-6 on a cascade level with gas and not to complete installation of the partially installed IR-8 at the pilot plant. These provisions were designed to ‘limit research and development on advanced centrifuges that move the machines to the next level of development'.

It would be reasonable for the comprehensive agreement to incorporate similar limits on R&D. The Lausanne accord said Iran will engage in limited R&D with its advanced centrifuges, ‘according to a schedule and parameters which have been agreed to by the P5+1’. Parties have been tight-lipped about those details. Iran also agreed not to conduct uranium enrichment R&D at the Fordow facility for 15 years.

On National Nuclear Technology Day in April 2014, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said ‘scientific progress in the nuclear field should in no way be halted or slowed down’. For the parties negotiating with Iran, however, there would be no point to a nuclear agreement that did not slow the advancement. Iranian pride – which is as well developed as that of any country – will not allow it to stop nuclear progress altogether. Nevertheless, like most of his supposed red lines, Khamenei’s edict on R&D is pinkish.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Erik Jones: Why the New US Trade Agenda Is Such a Hard Sell

Trade policy is in trouble in the United States right now primarily because it is not ‘trade policy’. Instead, US President Barack Obama has framed his trade agenda around parallel agreements on regulatory cooperation that should make it easier for transnational enterprises to distribute their manufacturing processes across national borders without facing redundant regulatory requirements or losing control over intellectual property rights. This regulatory cooperation is a good idea, and yet the devil is in the details. Unlike a more traditional trade negotiation over tariff schedules and market access, both the aggregate and the distributive consequences of this type of agreement are more subtle – meaning both hard to anticipate and hard to measure. Worse, the language used to describe both the process of negotiation and the agreements themselves is largely impenetrable. Worst of all, these are negotiations where fundamental principles are involved.

Let me begin the argument by illustrating the impenetrability of the language. Last week two things happened to stall President Obama’s policy agenda for international trade. First, on Wednesday, the European Parliament failed to vote its support for the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Members of European Parliament (MEPs) did not vote against TTIP, but enough of them looked ready to do so to convince European Parliament (EP) President Martin Schulz to postpone a definitive vote until the autumn. Among many other factors, Schulz calculated that there was no reason for MEPs to battle over TTIP before the US president received the trade promotion authority (TPA) necessary to force the US Congress to give an up-or-down vote on any negotiated agreement.

In a vote on Friday, Congress did offer TPA to the president. This vote was essential for the Obama administration to win approval for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is in addition to – and arguably more important than – than the advantages TPA would offer for TTIP. Soon thereafter, however, the House Democrats voted against a related measure for trade adjustment assistance (TAA). That was the second setback. Since the president needs to sign TPA and TAA together to ensure that enough members of Congress will support TPP (and TTIP), he needs to send TAA back to Congress. Ironically, the Democrats have a much greater historical attachment to TAA than to TPA. They voted against TAA because they have deeper problems with TPP and TTIP. Given this opposition, it is hard to see what the MEPs are to make of the House Democrats’ mixed voting record or how Schulz will organise the trade agenda in the EP along with it.

With this introduction, it is easy to guess why the US trade agenda is so difficult. The avalanche of acronyms is off-putting on its own. Then there is the putative impact on jobs. This is where the difficulty of both anticipating and measuring the impact of regulatory cooperation becomes important. Depending upon who is speaking, the Obama administration and it surrogates argue that the Pacific- and Atlantic-oriented trade agreements will increase either the volume or the quality of employment; the most optimistic members argue that the two agreements will increase both the quantity and the quality at once. Meanwhile, detractors argue that was not the experience with previous regional trade agreements. They worry more about who will lose out from any new arrangement than who will benefit. They also worry about the increase in income inequality that will result from enhanced competition with firms from abroad.

These are all legitimate considerations. Both the opacity of the language and the ambiguity of the employment consequences are important. Nevertheless, there is also a deeper problem. Neither TPP nor TTIP is a conventional trade agreement; as I mentioned at the outset, the two negotiations deal more with patterns of regulatory cooperation than with tariff schedules or market access. This creates two dilemmas. Firstly, negotiation over regulatory cooperation focuses attention on the exceptions rather than the rules. Secondly, negotiation over regulatory cooperation forces negotiators – and, more importantly, the parliamentarians or members of Congress responsible for ratifying any agreement – to debate the principles underlying the regulatory process.

The idea that any process of regulatory cooperation would focus attention on the exceptions rather than the rules seems counter-intuitive – particularly when contrasted with the obvious peaks on a tariff schedule. Nevertheless, that is how the conversation works. In a straightforward trade negotiation you establish the principles for tariff protection and market access, and then you negotiate over the exceptions. The basic line is that free trade is welfare maximising and hence the goal is to liberalise as much as possible. As a consequence it is relatively easy to tolerate exceptions so long as the broader objective remains in focus.

A negotiation over regulatory cooperation is different because it takes place at a higher level of abstraction. The first question is how to come up with a general rule. This sounds a little like ‘free trade is good’, but the object of the rule is more likely to be something like consumer safety, workplace equality, fair competition or some other value. The second question is how to legitimate or justify – with some added rule – why exceptions should exist and which should be tolerated in the interest of coming to some kind of agreement. This higher level of abstraction shifts the focus of attention from the general rule – which lends itself to generalisations – to the justification of exceptions, which do not. It is one thing to ask how far we should maximise welfare through trade liberalisation and another to ask how we justify exceptions to safety, quality or fairness. As a result, the exceptions become the centre of the conversation. If you want to talk about TTIP in the European Parliament, be prepared to wrestle with chlorinated chicken; if you want to talk about TPP in Congress, focus attention on conditions of employment.

These conversations about the exceptions are anything but idiosyncratic. On the contrary, they reveal a lot about the fundamental principles at work in the regulatory process. These are the principles that underlie choices about the best approach to protecting and promoting core societal values. No choice is unambiguously correct; each involves complex trade-offs related to responsibility, innovation, opportunity, justice and all the rest. Moreover, these trade-offs differ depending upon the wider institutional environment – which is to say the clutch of state, market and social relationships within which the regulations are supposed to operate. More simply, the impact of TPP will be different in Asia and the United States; the impact of TTIP will be different in the United States and Europe.

When you add everything together – the complexity of the language, the subtlety of the benefits and the ambiguity surrounding the various trade-offs between important non-monetary values, it is small wonder that the Obama administration’s trade agenda is so hard to sell to Congress or in the European Parliament. Worse, efforts to simplify the sales pitch are likely to make matters worse rather than better by fostering unrealistic expectations and so leaving hostages to fortune. Success is possible in such complex cross-border arrangements for regulatory cooperation. It is also worth the hassle. The European Union’s internal market is a good illustration. But such successes are hard won over decades of sustained effort. That is why I argued in the Journal of European Public Policy almost a decade ago that European experience would be a bad model for a global trade agenda. It remains to be seen whether the same conclusion holds for the two large regional arrangements being negotiated by the Obama administration. Rest assured, though – any progress will be difficult.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford, United Kingdom.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Inspecting Iran anywhere, but not anytime

One of the most vexing issues remaining to be negotiated between Iran and the six major powers regards future inspector access to military sites. From a Western perspective, it is a no-brainer that Iran should not be able to hide nuclear-weapons work at military bases. Iran, on the other hand, has a legitimate need to protect military secrets that are unrelated to illicit nuclear activity. No sovereign country, especially one under the repeated threat of airstrikes, would willingly expose its defences.

Iran’s case is dissimilar to that of Iraq, which had to accept unconditional UN inspection after it was soundly defeated in war. As much as one might aspire also to seeing ‘anytime, anywhere’ inspections in Iran, unconditional demands are unrealistic.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei complicated the issue when he said in a 9 April speech that military bases will be off-limits to inspectors. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Crops commanders echoed his apparent edict.

Fortunately, Khamenei’s supposed red lines are often coloured in shades of pink. Last July, for example, he insisted that Iran needed the equivalent of about 120,000 first-generation centrifuges, but Iran later accepted just 5% of this level for 10–15 years. In February he was adamant that a comprehensive deal had to be done in one fell swoop, but his negotiators proceeded with the two-step process that had been agreed: a political framework in spring followed by a detailed agreement targeted for the end of June.

For Khamenei to rule out access to military bases is as unrealistic as the ‘anytime, anywhere’ mantra at the other end of the spectrum. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius insisted on 27 May that France would not accept a deal that ruled out inspections of military sites. US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken similarly said on 8 June that the US would not accept a deal unless access is granted ‘to whatever Iranian sites are required to verify that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful—period.’

After all, the safeguards Additional Protocol, which Iran has agreed to implement, allows for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to take environmental samples anywhere in the country where there is reasonable suspicion of nuclear material- or nuclear fuel cycle-related activity taking place. Military sites are not excluded from the sweeping provision of ‘anywhere’. The Additional Protocol provides for what is called ‘complementary access’ by inspectors to sites in order to resolve questions relating to the correctness and completeness of a state’s nuclear declaration.

IAEA access rights were amplified in the framework struck by the parties in Lausanne on 2 April. As the US ‘parameters’ document puts it: ‘Iran will be required to grant access to the IAEA to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility, conversion facility, centrifuge production facility, or yellowcake production facility anywhere in the country.’

After Khamenei tried to walk back that provision of the Lausanne accord, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi explained that the IAEA would be allowed ‘managed access’. Although he said managed access does not mean inspection, both he and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told legislators that military facilities would not be excluded. Mehdi Khalaji from the conservative Washington Institute for Near East Studies, noted that they would not have said this without endorsement from Khamenei, who, as Khalaji explained, holds private views on nuclear compromise that are more flexible than his tough public posture.

President Hassan Rouhani is also walking a fine line. When asked at a press conference on 13 June if inspectors will be allowed access to military sites and nuclear scientists, tellingly he did not say no. He answered, rather, that Iran will never allow its state secrets to be accessed by foreigners under a pretext. This answer leaves a lot of room for negotiation.

The procedure of ‘managed access’ also comes from the Additional Protocol, which allows a state to ask for arrangements for managed access for various reasons, including in order to protect proprietary or commercially sensitive information. As explained to me by a former IAEA official, this is how it works:

The IAEA tells the state it wants access to a location to perform specific verification activities to determine whether a nuclear activity took place there. Following the defined procedure, the state can say no, that managed access must be applied, and it can propose an alternative that it says will provide IAEA the answer it is seeking. IAEA may accept this alternative, or it may propose another alternative, or it may stick to its original request.

An IAEA request may well result in a stalemate if the IAEA is not satisfied with what Iran is willing to allow. As former US State Department senior official Robert Einhorn argued, the notional managed access provisions that Araqchi described in a 25 May interview, involving inspector blindfolds and covered up equipment, is comically inadequate. A ‘joint commission’ with a majority of Western nations apparently will be established to adjudicate disputes, but ultimately such issues could go to the UN Security Council for resolution.

Iran has suggested that the IAEA could be allowed to take environmental samples near the desired location, while not being permitted to actually go to the location. This may be Iran’s alternative to an IAEA request for base access. Sampling close enough to the facility in question may allow officials to determine whether any activity took place using nuclear materials. If the activity in question did not actually involve nuclear material, however, but was related to weaponisation work, for example, environmental sampling would not be sufficient. Likewise if Iran had undertaken extensive clean-up work to remove uranium traces. In such cases, the IAEA would need to insist on physical entry.

The negotiation should result in access rights that go beyond the Additional Protocol. It won’t have the same ring as ‘anywhere, anytime’, but ‘access where needed, when needed’ is the answer.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Erik Jones: Finance and Britain's EU Referendum

A big unknown in the debate over the UK's planned referendum on European Union (EU) membership is the impact it will have on the City of London, in its role as the financial capital of Europe. There are three reasons that the impact could be negative. The UK referendum debate and European reform negotiations will lessen British influence on the design of Europe’s capital union; they will eliminate any incentive for Britain to sign up to Europe’s banking union; and they raise the spectre that the UK government will find itself outside of future decisions about the shape of European financial regulation (and perhaps even without the support of the European Court of Justice inside the internal market).

The first two points apply whatever the outcome of the referendum, and apply primarily during the referendum campaign. The prospect of exclusion applies primarily in the case where the British people vote to leave the EU. A string of public opinion polls suggest this is unlikely to happen. Nevertheless, the risk is greater than zero, and so even the prospect of British EU exit will weigh on decision-making in the world’s largest financial institutions. And that is in addition to the ongoing tensions between the British government and the financial community over the bank levy, the future status of non-domiciled tax residents and the post-crisis regulatory environment. The bottom line is that the EU referendum campaign is making a difficult situation worse.

Let’s start with the capital union project. This is an effort led by the European Commission to help wean the European internal market off of its excessive reliance on bank financing. The result should be a boon to equity, bond and securitisation markets across Europe, as firms look to alternatives for bank finance and as banks look for ways to refresh their asset portfolios. For this to work, however, it is not enough that firms have access to alternative credit markets; it is also important that savers (or investors) be able to take advantage of the increasing diversity of financial products and the opening up of new demand for credit across countries. Regulation will play a vital role in all aspects of this process – if for no other reason than to avoid the excesses that most policymakers believe caused the financial crisis in the United States. Hence the question is whether the emerging European regulatory framework will differ from or resemble regulations already in place in Europe’s most advanced capital markets, notably the UK.

There are any number of reasons why other European governments would want to push for a different regulatory framework from that prevailing in the UK as part of the capital markets union. Some of these have to do with suspicion that the Anglo-Saxons are too prone to take on excessive risk and too little inclined to protect retail investors. Others have to do with the fact that accessing international credit is a competitive process, and simply uploading UK regulatory norms while making other countries adapt would only reinforce Britain’s first-mover advantage. This is the usual stuff of European politics. What the referendum debate adds is a sense of resentment that the UK government is trying to gain added leverage in addition to the many assets it brings to the table as an established global leader in finance. Perversely, this makes it easier for negotiators to dismiss UK bargaining positions on specific regulatory issues as being disingenuous or excessive. Why should they have to make concessions to the British in this area in addition to having to open up difficult negotiations over basic European competencies?

The concern about a banking union applies more within the UK than in the rest of the European Union. The British government has made it clear that it does not want to be part of the European banking union project – with its single supervisory mechanism, common resolution authority, pooled resolution financing and all the rest. There are good reasons for the UK government to insist on this exclusion at present. But many of those are specific to the present configuration of European financial markets and the current state of financial market disintegration. As the European economy recovers and banks begin doing more business across national borders, the influence of Europe’s banking union on businesses headquartered within the UK is going to increase. So will the power of European resolution authorities in the event that there is some kind of renewed turmoil. These are all reasons why an initial UK rejection of a European banking union could – and should – soften into a more cooperative relationship within the British national interest. The referendum debate makes such a softening of attitudes hard to imagine. If anything, the rejection of any extension of powers to ‘Brussels’ on both side of the referendum campaign makes future participation in a European banking union even more unlikely.

The prospect that the British people could vote against membership in the EU complicates matters further. Were that to happen, the hard-won concessions about decision-making over financial market regulations within the European Banking Authority would be at risk, and the logic of making rules within the European banking union would be more compelling. Such rules would pay scant regard to the competitive position of UK-based banks and the cost of their adjustment to a new regulatory framework. The argument here is not that Europeans would use the rules to put British banks at a disadvantage; rather it is that they would be indifferent to British concerns because UK interests would not be represented at the table. A similar logic applies to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The ECJ would not suddenly turn on the UK if the British were to opt out of the European Union, but it would have little reason to insist on protecting Britain’s place within the international European market. In other words, the ECJ’s recent decision to allow for euro-denominated clearing outside the euro area could be a risk.

None of this spells an immediate end to Britain’s financial leadership. The capital markets union is still slow to gain momentum and the banking union has yet to face a serious test. It may yet be that both European initiatives prove inadequate. And, again, the British people are very likely to vote to stay in the EU. Nevertheless, these issues will weigh on investment decisions. The capital markets union has a game-changing potential, the banking union has already altered the competitive landscape and the prospect of British exclusion from future European decision-making constitutes a significant risk. Taken together, these factors are altering how finance views Britain and they are sure to have an impact on Britain’s financial competitiveness. We just don’t know yet how big that impact will be.

This blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford, United Kingdom.

Jeffrey Mazo: Shooting for the Moon

On Tuesday 2 June, at the Royal Society in London, a group of eminent UK academics led by former UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King issued a call for a ‘Global Apollo Programme to Combat Climate Change’. We’ve heard this sort of thing before – in 2008, for example, former US Vice President Al Gore called for an Apollo programme to achieve 100% of US electricity production from zero-carbon sources within 10 years. Barack Obama echoed this call in his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, and a think tank proposed spending $500 billion over the same 10-year period on a ‘New Apollo Program’ to catalyse a clean-energy revolution. But this new initiative is less ambitious in its call on resources, if not in its timetable. Unlike previous, similar proposals, which have either been solely aspirational or lacked practical support, the Global Apollo Programme appears to have some real juice behind it.

The group notes that one thing would be enough to keep greenhouse-gas emissions low enough to avoid dangerous climate change: the cost of producing clean energy falling below the cost of energy based on fossil fuels. The proposed programme thus has a clear, specific research goal: making new-build, base-load energy from renewable sources cheaper than new-build coal in sunny parts of the world by 2020, and worldwide from 2025. Their vision is of a dramatic worldwide increase in publicly funded research, development and demonstration (RD&D) on renewable energy, from £6bn to £15bn a year (and rising in line with GDP thereafter).

This would amount to 0.02% of world GDP and 4% of overall RD&D. Participating governments would pledge to spend an average of 0.02% of GDP from 2016 to 2025, and funds would remain under the control of the governments involved. There would be an international ‘Roadmap Committee’ that would identify and spell out the advances needed at the pre-competitive stage to guide research priorities, following the successful precedent of the two-decade-old International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors.

In a Closing Argument in Survival in 2009 (‘Moon over Manhattan’), I compared the invocation of Apollo as a model for large-scale government-led and funded research and development programmes to a rival model, the Manhattan Project, which produced the first atomic bomb during the Second World War. Although similar in level of commitment, there were a number of important differences between the two. In my view, the key difference was the contrasting paths taken by the two programmes. Very broadly speaking, NASA explored various technological options before selecting one; the Manhattan Project pursued multiple options in parallel, regardless of cost, and construction of factories was begun before the technologies they employed were perfected. The organisational cultures of the two programmes were also critical. The proposed ‘Global Apollo Programme to Combat Climate Change’ would in fact be more like Manhattan than Apollo.

This might seem overly pedantic. But metaphors matter – or there would be no benefit in calling the project a Global Apollo Programme in the first place. On the other hand, since metaphors do matter, the group was probably right in invoking Apollo. The original Apollo programme is widely seen as representing the best mankind can achieve (more so now, perhaps, than at the time, when many people saw it as a waste of money). Nuclear weapons, not so much. And if anything, the Manhattan Project is a more overused metaphor than Apollo. A quick web search I did in 2009 when preparing a talk for the US Army Environmental Policy Institute came up with proposals for Manhattan Projects on, among others, AIDS, the arts, cyber-security, the behavioural sciences, bionic arms, bioterrorism, cryoprotectant toxicity, the economy, education, hair loss, IED defence, infectious disease, Microsoft Windows, nanotechnology, new music technology, poverty, racial equality, real ale and women.

Even if we urgently need a Manhattan Project for climate change, then, it is better politically and practically to invoke Apollo. As I noted in my 2009 article, however, what makes Apollo and Manhattan appropriate metaphors, each in its own way, for large-scale energy RD&D efforts is the degree to which they conform to an ideal: a focused, inspiring and sustainable goal; commitment of resources an order of magnitude above the norm; a willingness to fail, and spend money on failure; and a ‘lean and mean’, flat, open and empowering organisational culture. The proposal launched this week meets the first criterion; others will be under the control of the various participating nations, a recipe for inconsistency and failure. Most critical, however, is the commitment of resources.

The group led by King sees the current low level of public funding for clean energy RD&D (under 2% of total research funding) in the face of ‘the greatest material challenge facing humankind’ as ‘totally astonishing’ and a ‘shocking failure’. They note that it is even more serious in that private-sector investme